Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The cost of transportation construction is going up

In yesterday's Oregonian issue, there was an article on how the cost of transportation construction is going up, which will limit how far each transportation (and bond) dollar goes in terms of fixing bridges, building and re-building roads, etc.

You know, I've seen this same sort of story repeated across the country. The reasons why transportation construction costs are going up are mainly related to two things:

1) The cost of oil is going up, and oil is used to make asphalt, which is used to make most roads, and

2) The cost of steel is going up (due in large part to a massive construction boom -- skyscrapers, roads, bridges, dams -- in China), and steel is used for rebar, bridges, etc.

...and here's my proposed solution:

While bike lanes are still a bargain (unless, of course, you want that lane re-paved when it gets striped), there should be a fundamental re-examination of the economics of transportation construction.

Perhaps we rely too much on low-grade asphalt roads? Many of our asphalt roads are designed with only a 10-20 year lifespan per paving cycle. The Romans built some roads which are still going, 2000 years later, with the original pavement, and heavy traffic! Perhaps asphalt is just not the most sustainable solution for every street or other pavement need?

Some of Portland's original cement/concrete streets have never been re-paved... and are still mostly useable 100 years later. I think it's quite possible that, given modern engineering and materials science advances, we can come up with a concrete, fly-ash, cement or other stone-based solution for paving that will last much, much longer than asphalt, without the need for continual re-paving. We might even be able to figure out how to make it semi-permeable, as with the latest asphalt/rubber hybrid surfaces that allow the rain to soak through rather than puddle up on top!

Finally, there should be a bigger focus on maintaining existing roads (and maintaining them to a higher standard, that is, putting slightly more effort into each re-paving with the goal of extending the time between paving cycles to... let's shoot big ... a century), rather than constructing new ones. Further, the state really lacks a statewide passenger rail system... wouldn't building one to tie together a statewide bicycle network be a much more sustainable use of state funds?

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