Tag Archives: roads

Oregon’s Buckled Roads and Melted Cables Are Warning Signs

Highways and rail lines in the Pacific Northwest were built for a cooler climate. But the heat wave proved that extreme weather is becoming more common.

This week, trapped under a stalled mountain of warm air called a heat dome, the Pacific Northwest got a taste of the future.

On Sunday, as temperatures hit 105, the concrete beneath State Route 544 outside Everson, Washington, began to do what concrete does when it gets really hot: It expanded. By 5 pm, the asphalt above it had softened and cracked, leaving a thick, humped seam across two lanes. To the south, in Portland, Oregon, a road on the northern side of the city seized up around a pothole, leading authorities to close surrounding streets.

As the heat wave wore on, the hits kept coming. Amtrak slowed trains on its Cascades service, worried the heat would warp the tracks. Power cables melted on the Portland Streetcar, which canceled service on Sunday and Monday. The local light rail system also halted, after its copper overhead wires sagged in 120-degree heat and became unusable.

“With extreme weather becoming more common, we’re realizing that as an agency we need to become more climate-resilient,” says Tyler Graf, a spokesperson for TriMet, the agency that runs the light-rail system.

Scientists have long warned of more violent and extreme weather events as the climate changes. What were once 100- or 1,000-year heat waves, floods, storms, and hurricanes will become more common. Now, the extreme weather in the Northwest, and the cracks, sags, and delays that followed, are reminders that the country’s underfunded and underappreciated transportation network isn’t prepared for what’s ahead.

Aging roads—in some cases 50 or 70 years old—contribute to the problem. Over time, water and other debris have leaked into the spaces between the slabs of concrete that make up the road. When the concrete expands in extreme heat, it pushes up. “When an area that doesn’t experience heat that regularly has it come in, it creates a lot of challenges for us,” says Morgan Balogh, an assistant regional administrator for maintenance and operations at the Washington Department of Transportation.

It’s complicated by a little-known fact: Roads and railways are built differently in different places. Many highways in the US are paved with asphalt concrete, a mix of crushed stone, gravel, and sand called “aggregate” and a soft, black “binder.” The binder is what remains of crude oil after petroleum, kerosene, and other products are refined; its qualities depend on where and how it’s made. In an arid, hot desert like Arizona, engineers use a stiff binder that will withstand high temperatures. In Seattle, binders can soften at lower temperatures, because it’s not supposed to get as hot. That’s partly why Phoenix’s normal summertime temperature wreaked havoc on a place like Bellingham, Washington. Similarly, the overhead wires in Phoenix’s light-rail system are calibrated to withstand heat up to 120 degrees.

In extreme heat, asphalt gets soft and behaves kind of like peanut butter, says Hussain Bahia, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin who heads the school’s Modified Asphalt Research Center. Put it in an oven and it will become a “slush fluid,” he says. Sustained heat on roads not built for heat can lead to potholes, pockmarks, and bumps. The bumps can cause cars to spin out of control. When it rains again, they increase the likelihood of hydroplaning. Excessive heat is especially bad for roads, because it can make them less able to resist strain and spread heavy loads across their surfaces.

As regional climates change, road builders are having a hard time keeping up. A few state agencies have begun to incorporate more recent climate data into their formulas for choosing asphalt mixes, says Shane Underwood, an associate professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University. But none are yet projecting a hotter future, he says. Roads built today are meant to last decades, but they might not be prepared to withstand the future climate. He and colleagues estimate the changing climate could boost road maintenance costs by billions of dollars a year.

“Integrating what the science says about what temperatures are going to look like into decisionmaking is definitely important,” Underwood says. Agencies will have to strike a fine balance to navigate limited budgets and the cost of different road materials.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, politicians are hammering out a new infrastructure deal—and have stripped it of its major climate proposals. As the Pacific Northwest continues to tabulate how many people died during its record-breaking heat, it’s not clear if those in charge understand what’s coming, or are willing to learn from the recent past.


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Author: Aarian Marshall
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Report: Stages of Olympic torch relay to be pulled off Tokyo roads

It’s not clear what the alternative plans will be for the torch if it is removed from public streets in Tokyo.

TOKYO, Japan — Some stages of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay will be pulled off the roads of the Japanese capital because of fears about spreading the coronavirus, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday.

Citing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Kyodo said the relay would not appear on public streets from July 9-16. Kyodo said organizers would decide on the format for the relay from July 17 until the opening ceremony on July 23.

The relay began in March in northeastern Japan. It has faced numerous detours, scaled back programs, and has been run at times only in public park spaces to avoid spreading the virus.

Tokyo is under a quasi-state of emergency until July 11 with infection cases rising again. Tokyo confirmed 476 new cases on Tuesday, up from 435 last Tuesday. It the 10th straight day that cases were higher than they were seven days previously.

Japan has attributed about 14,500 deaths to COVID-19, better than many countries but not as good as some Asian neighbors.

It’s not clear what the alternative plans will be for the torch if it is removed from public streets in Tokyo.

Initial plans called for 10,000 runners to crisscross Japan for 121 days, winding up at the new National Stadium on July 23.

The relay is heavily sponsored by Coca-Cola and Toyota. Some suggested canceling the relay to save money after the Olympics were postponed 15 months ago, but any such plans were quickly scrapped.

RELATED: Japan ups health controls as Olympic athlete tests positive

RELATED: Japan backs off on forecast of 30 gold medals at Tokyo Games

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This post originally appeared on CBS8 – Sports

All Those Electric Vehicles Pose a Problem for Building Roads

Last week, Washington governor Jay Inslee—the guy who, while running for president two years ago, proposed a nationwide ban on sales of gas-powered cars by 2030—vetoed a statewide ban on gas-powered car sales by 2030.

The reason for the puzzling move, Inslee said in a statement, was a provision tucked into the legislation. The language said the 2030 target would take effect only if lawmakers created a program to charge drivers based on how far they drive each year.

The bill had been hailed as pathbreaking for electric vehicles and US climate policy, more aggressive than deadlines from states like California, Massachusetts, and New York, which have set their sights on 2035. Washington plans to follow California’s rules and phase out the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035.

But there’s a hitch in those plans: The nation uses gas taxes to fund the construction and upkeep of everything from roads and bridges to buses and ferries. As more electric vehicles—including the Ford F-150 Lightning, which goes on sale next year—hit the road, gas sales will decline, along with the revenue from taxing them.

Matthew Metz, founder and co-executive director of the Seattle-based environmental group Coltura, says he was surprised and disappointed that Inslee missed a chance to set the earliest zero-emission sales deadline in the country. He says signing the legislation, even with the attached per-mile tax program, would have staved off future angst about paying for the state’s infrastructure. Lawmakers “can keep kicking this issue down the road, but eventually it’s going to have to stop,” Metz says.

In the US, state and federal motor fuel taxes account for more than 40 percent of transportation funding—the largest revenue source. But the federal government hasn’t raised the gas tax since 1993, when it was fixed at 18.4 cents a gallon. Since 2008, Congress has allocated additional funds from elsewhere, but the situation is not sustainable: The Congressional Budget Office says that if the funding system doesn’t change by 2030 federal transportation funding will exceed its budget by $ 188 billion. At least 36 states have increased their fuel taxes since 2010 to bring in more money.

Meanwhile, vehicles have gotten more fuel-efficient—and a small but growing share of US vehicles aren’t using gas at all. Automakers promise to spend the next decade rolling out battery-powered models. (Anyone want an electric version of the best-selling vehicle in America, the Ford F-150 pickup? You can buy one in 2022.)

That transition is important to the planet. Twenty-nine percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions waft from the transportation sector, and nearly 60 percent of those are from light-duty vehicles. Many believe that electrifying the country’s transportation system must be a key element of any plan to beat back climate change.

“Lawmakers are realizing that yes, you’re meeting this environmental goal” by setting ambitious electrification targets, says Douglas Shinkle, who directs the transportation program at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “But at the same time, you’re negatively impacting the system that those vehicles drive on.”

Which is why policymakers like those in Washington state are interested in road user fees. In theory, the policy is simple: Instead of paying a tax on each gallon of gas they use, drivers would pay a tax per mile they drive. US Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg endorsed the idea in March, though it didn’t make it into President Biden’s infrastructure proposal. Also in March, the Federal Highway Administration announced it would fund eight state- and regional-level road-user-fee pilot programs. At least 13 states have introduced legislation concerning road user charges, Shinkle says.

But states that have experimented with and even implemented road user fees—a club that includes California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia—have run into plenty of thorny questions. Collecting a gas tax is easy and cheap; drivers pay at the pump. But a per-mile charge would require gathering data and fees from millions of vehicles. Some states have experimented with radio transponders, others with devices that plug into vehicles and send data to transportation departments. Skeptics have raised concerns about tracking residents’ locations. And it’s not clear that such a system would raise more money than it costs.

Author: Aarian Marshall
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Roads and highways disrupt bee pollination

The planet is sliced into pieces by millions of miles of roads, which have, unsurprisingly, caused some problems for the nonhuman, non-drivers among us. The ecological impacts of roads are vast, from habitat fragmentation to direct traffic collisions with wildlife (AKA “roadkill”). One understudied relationship is how roads affect insects, and pollinators in particular. A new study, recently published in The Journal of Applied Ecology, examines how roads may limit the movement of plant pollinators like bees. 

“Especially in urban areas, our roads are basically going through a lot of different habitats,” says study coauthor Chatura Vaidya, a PhD candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan. Roads can act as a barrier, preventing the typical flow of DNA between populations of pollinators as well as the plants they pollinate, Vaidya says, leading to lower genetic diversity, and even extinction. 

Vaidya and the study’s coauthor, University of Michigan PhD candidate Gordon Fitch, focused on two native plants: Coreopsis verticillata, a member of the daisy family with small flowers that the researchers presumed would attract smaller pollinators, and Monarda fistulosa, or wild bergamot, which has larger flowers that might attract heftier pollinators, such as bumblebees. 

Working in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the summer of 2020, the researchers placed both species of potted flowering plants at 47 sites near roads that had a range of speed limits as well as a variety of sizes, from pedestrian sidewalks and bike paths to five-lane roads. The scientists doused the flowers with a fluorescent pigment, a stand-in for pollen, which would be picked up by a visiting pollinator and deposited at their next flower destination. A second, un-pigmented set of plants were placed across the road from the first, and a third set of un-pigmented plants were situated the same distance away on the same side of the road. These plants were checked at night using UV lights to track whether they’d picked up any pigments. 

The researchers found that plants on the opposite side of the road ended up with far less pigment than the plants placed on the same side of the road as the plants that had the pigment added to them. For Coreopsis plants, those on the other side of the road had 50 percent less pigment transfer (again akin to pollination) than those plants on the same side of the road as the plants with the added pigment. For Monarda plants, that pigment reduction was 34 percent.     

The researchers suggest that this difference—50 percent versus 34 percent—probably has something to do with the different sizes of their pollinators: The smaller the bee, the harder it might be to make it across the road. The tiny metallic-green sweat bees that made up the majority of Coreopsis visitors may have more trouble, for example, navigating through the swooshes of traffic-produced wind. 

“What we have found is that roads are definitely barriers for bee movement, and also for pollen movement. And that is going to impact not just bee populations, but also plant populations,” says Vaidya. In particular, the researchers found that the width of the road was the most significant factor in this pollen transfer reduction. However, they caution, more work needs to be done to tease out exactly which road characteristics, from traffic levels to the physical road itself, are most relevant. The researchers also note that the study took place during COVID-19 pandemic, when traffic was less busy; more traffic, Vaidya says, could have an even bigger effect. 

[Read more: Trees need wind to reproduce. Climate change is messing that up.]

“These are critical findings to support future investigation of this ecological and agricultural impact,” wrote Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis, in an email to Popular Science. 

The study raised new questions around how to manage this issue, Shilling says, “especially about whether or not we can build things like pollinator crossings to get them safely across the road. How many and how big do they need to be?” The study authors note that wildlife corridors, which have been used to help vertebrate animals avoid cars by crossing over or under roads, would need to be tested first to make sure they wouldn’t inadvertently send the insects flying into traffic; reducing traffic on roads (often dubbed “road diets”) could also help, they say. 

Aside from greenhouse gas emissions, Shilling says, “roads and traffic are the most extensive type of human impact.” If roads are contributing to declines in pollination and other important ecological services, “we need to know so we can do something about it.”

Author: Claire Maldarelli
This post originally appeared on Science – Popular Science

High water locations on Houston-area roads

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — It’s been a wet morning on the roadways, thanks to the widespread and slow moving storm that covered the Houston area.

As always, keep an eye on high-water locations on Houston-area roads and other trouble spots for drivers, as heavy storms bring flooding rains.

Remember, if you come across high water, don’t attempt to drive through it. Turn around, don’t drown.

The following high water locations are being reported by Houston Transtar:

There are currently no high water locations being reported

Updated on 5/1/2021 at 7:24 AM

FULL FORECAST: ABC13 Weather

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Author: KTRK

This post originally appeared on ABC13 RSS Feed