Thursday, July 13, 2017

Highways & Tunnels & Bridges Oh My!

"Landslide on California highway part of $1 billion in damage"
This is Part II of my post about the Central California Coast Highway and natural mishaps that have befallen the Big Sur area with wildfire and flooding. Part I is below.
Santa Lucia Coast Range & Big Sur California: An Environmental Wreck ???
Photo: John Madonna, Associated Press

In an ironic twist, I've had this post in draft form since December 15th 2016, yet I've spent so much time pondering how to find a way to conclude it and then suddenly this catastrophic event above took place in the very area I wanted to highlight an an example of infrastructure rethinking. This section of Pacific Coast Highway is notorious for is instability. There's really no bedrock, the soil is made up of loose soil and fractured rock on an extremely steep mountain slope. In so many ways the unstable geology here is reminsicent of the broken fractured geology of the Carrizo Gorge area of eastern San Diego County where a series of 17+ tunnels have always been in danger of total collapse as this tunnel #16 above right which was recently seen collapsed this year as seen in a January 31, 2017 YouTube video, weeds and large boulders obstruct the track. The American way of road building in the early days had many twists and turns. The roads didn't offend the landscape, but rather flowed along with it. In later years roads were straightened to increase speed and ease travel and this often meant blasting their way through mountains and other obstacles. Unfortunately many places are unstable and have a long history of bandaid fixes and patches, only to fall down again during the next storm or earthquake event. It was back in December 2016 that I saw what could be the answer to the bad stretch of roadway from the way sensitive care was taken by this article below. 
"Scientists hope a new approach to planning road infrastructure will increase crop yield in the Greater Mekong region while limiting environmental destruction, and open dialogues between developers and the conservation community"
University of Cambridge
image by Jianchu Xu & Biaoyun Huai

A new highway snakes through the mountains of the upper Mekong in the picture above & right which was needed to improve transportation infrastructure which would benefit the economy. But rather than tackling the steep unstable slopes along those hills and creating an ecological nightmare, they opted for something that would be intitially more expensive to build, but in the long run safer and easier to maintain while providing a better conservation purpose at less cost over time. The very first images that popped into my head when I read this study were the many dangerous landslide points along California's beautiful Pacific Coast Hwy 1. Had such dangerous locations been bypassed with more superior engineering at original construction, the loss of life, property and permanent damage to the environment would never have played out the way it has over the past several decades. Of course way back when it was first built, they most likely had very little money aside from technology. This mostly was a tourist scenic route as opposed to major economic transportation corridor which is east of here with Hwy 101. Not only would being a scenic route want to avoid tunnels, the geology would make it almost impossible just like San Diego's impossible railroad to Imperial Valley. Clearly there are many places along the coast highway where steep slopes should be abandoned and ocean infrastructure considered. And there is usually no consensus on how or if this should be done. Here are some of the ideological roadblock hatreds from two opposing sides as the article pointed out:
"Conservationists can to appear to oppose nearly all new infrastructure, while developers and their financial backers are often fairly mute on the environmental impact of their proposals. This can lead to a breakdown in communication." (University of Cambridge)
Maybe both environmentalists and developers should learn how to use the data to avoid building those so-called highways to hell. But I wouldn't bet on it. As it stands now, even some of the fix-it patches they have already done will always be subject to removal by Nature in one fell swoop no matter how sophisticated and technologically advanced they believe their skills are. 



Devil''s Slide area on Hwy 1 south of San Francisco
in rock fractured by faults in San Andreas zone.

image - California Department of Transportation
This construction zone at right is Pitkins Curve on State Highway 1, the California Department of Transportation is completing a bridge that juts out from the side of the cliffs, leaving the old highway to capture falling rocks which I believe is finished now. My wife and I passed through here heading south on Cabrillo Hwy 1 towards San Luis Obispo, California. Some would argue that it would ruin the scenery by putting part of the highway viaduct bridge off the shoreline into the water, but can we really say that these massive scars since the original construction are more scenic ? Below here is the finished product we drove through on our way south. 

Image - Joyce Cory (2014)

The Pitkins Curved Bridge and Rain Rocks Rock Shed Projects Video footage

I love this combination of half tunnel half bridge landslide shelter which respects that the area is slide prone and impossible to tame. This type of design allows for periodic sliding which is common feature of this geography. But it also hopefully allows no danger to befall automobile travelers along Hwy 1. This type of structure is uncommon to most of Southern California, but well known and very common in many of the northern parts of the world.
British Columbia's Hwy 1 Lanark Snow Shed is 316m long
Image - TranBC Canada
Above and Below are beautiful examples of what are termed either Snow Sheds or Avalanche Sheds.
Below is British Columbia's Great Bear Snow Shed on the Coquihalla Highway and it's interior drive
Image - CWMM  Consulting Engineers Ltd

Ultimately these types of partial tunnel shelter designs on mountain sides allow natural slides to occur rather than preventing them is what that Pitkins Curve Bridge is all about. Unfortunately such construction is rare in Southern California where weather and climate have traditionally been pleasant most of the time and allowed the State to save money by taking a shortcut approach which has allowed development to increase at a faster pace and that's ashame for both Humans and Nature.

Image - LE CHIC EN ROSE - Model Railway
I know, it's a model train, but scenes like this are common everywhere in the real world of Switzerland. The Swiss cannot afford to ruin and destroy or make mistakes on landscapes they do not have. One stupid engineering blunder could ruin a steep mountain valley and almost render it unusable forever by bringing an entire unstable mountainside down into a valley.
Image - Northwest Air News

Above here is the Golden Pass Scenic Train near Zwissimen station Switzerland. I remember traveling through many tunnels and avalanche shelters on the train back in 1976 when I first visited Europe. This photo above reminds me of that movie scene from the 1965 WWII flick, "Von Ryan's Express," where Frank Sinatra single handedly holds off all those German soldiers in that Alps avalanche tunnel while his fellow prison camp escapee comrades make it over the border from Italy into Switzerland. All through the Alps these incredible infrastructures were everywhere and many of them seemed to have been built a century ago. Even the numerous public walkways or pathways and trails are all lined with stone along terraced hillsides to prevent erosion and degredation which were meant to last for centuries. Much of this careful done by hand has lots of natural character while providing a more maintenance free infrastructure system. Nothings perfect, but this kind of thinking is as close as you get. It's a work of Art.
image - jw.org

Public Pathways in Switzerland's Lavaux Wine Region
What about Tunnels and Wildlife Corridors ???
Image - AZCentral.com

Image - SoCal Region.com
Early traditional road building like that of the iconic American highway Route 66 often flowed with the landscape's natural geography. It rarely offended the land by blasting through formidable mountain barriers for a more straighter convenient tourist travel. The early roads hugged river canyons, had many "S" curves, some like this one on the right called 'Deadmans Curve' which is old Hwy 99 through California's Grapevine Canyon which was eventually replaced & road straightened when Interstate 5 was constructed. I can understand thier reasoning, but why not make a short tunnel through that low hillside which would allow deer, mountain lion and other large animals easy access to the riparian canyon corridor below without danger of crossing the freeway ? Large cuts in roadways are also constantly subject to slides in California either by heavy rain storms or earthquakes. 


Postcard image - socalregion.com
Above is an old postcard photo of an early Hwy 99 switchback roadway up the canyon. I get the reasoning for straightening out a endlessly twisting roadway infrastructure for convenience and safety. But long term maintenance and forethought should also have been considered and incorporated into many design plans for Interstate 5 and they weren't.
Image - Matt Beckstead 2011
This photo above is a wildlife ecoduct on the highway from Calgary, Alberta to Invermere, British Columbia. Over here in Sweden, while I'm not exactly keen on many things about living here, I do respect and applaud their numerous attempts at tunnels and wildlife overpasses like these two examples above and below. When we travel to Oslo Norway or Stockholm Sweden, these infrastructures are all along the route. They allow Moose and large Elk to travel from one side of the motorway to the other. It prevents automobile collisions with these large animals which also saves human life. Are they really all that complicated to design and build ? I come from Southern California which in the decades since WW II has had excessively almost unrestricted growth and doing things cheaply has been their road most taken. However in the long run many areas are ongoing maintenance nightmares.

Image - PDI
Smithsonianmag: "Worlds Coolest Animal Bridges"
Main Reasons for Highway Wildlife Over & Under Passes
Image - Inside Philanthropy

Google Earth
In Southern California there has been a movement to build more and more of these wildlife overpasses to prevent the larger animals from becoming roadkill. Yes we see roadkilled squirrels & rabbits all the time, but it's the larger animals like Deer, Bears, Cougars, Wolves and Coyotes which are not nearly as abundant as the smaller animals. Plus there is the human life safety factor. Hitting a large animal on a highway (usually at late night) is a dangerous experience. One area of controversy for roadkill is the passes between the Santa Monica Mountains, especially where Cougars of Mountains Lions attempt to traverse such passes to get from one part of their traditional territoral range to another. For me coming from San Diego County, I never understood why a tunnel was never proposed and implemented when the newer Mission Gorge Road bypass was built back in the 1960s for a wildlife gap connection between Cowles Mountain's Pyles Peak  and Kwaay Paay Peak next to the San Diego River's Mission Gorge within the Mission Trails Regional Park. 

Image from Trail to Peak's website

If you look towards the left hand side of the photograph above, you can see where Mission Gorge Road leaves west Santee headed towards San Diego's Mission Valley. It pushes upwards from  Santee through the gap between Pyles Peak and Kwaay Paay Peak. This would be the ideal location for building a tunnel to allow a wildlife corridor above and allowing a major connection between both sections of Mission Trails. The other major spot which would have provided good beneficial wildlife corridor would have been a short tunnel through the gap between North Fortuna Mountain and Miramar Military Reservation along Freeway 52 which is on the right hand side of the photo above.
From Trails to Peak's website

Again here is the entire map of Mission Trails Regional Park and you can easily see both Pyles Peak and Kwaay Paay Peak with Mission Gorge road running through the center of both. Perfect spot for wildlife corridor.

Photo credit: Dr. Yun Wang
I kid you not, if Southern California had the mega-fauna (Asian Elephant) problems common to the Simao-Xiao Mengyang expressway in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China, heads would roll if something sensable wasn't done immediately. So getting back to our California Route 1 Cabrillo Highway along the central coast, I really think that building a viaduct type of bridge over water construction would be the way to go and still be beautful and scenic. Allowing those unstable steep slopes to settle and heal with native vegetation would be much more eye pleasing than allowing the area to continue to degrade because of a belief that Nature has to be tamed and conformed or bent to our will. Somewhere Jennifer Doudna just fell off a chair. Below is another example of successful over water viaduct down in Australia.
Photo: david_wimble via Instagram

Sea Cliff Bridge in Australia
Seriously folks, picture California's Central Coast where most of the major catastrophic landslides have historically taken place and imagine a picturesque viaduct bridge like the one above to bypass the danger and allowing the land to heal with it's native coastal sage scrub.
Responsible Infrastructure References
Road planning 'trade off' could boost food production while helping protect tropical forests 
Interstate 15 and the Scenic Virgin River Gorge Bridge Project
Arthur's Pass Viaduct Highway New Zealand



Seriously folks, these people insist on doing things the hard
way- Or it just may well be it's a Union thingy

Google - Wildlife Overpass Construction Designs
Googled wildlife overpass construction
Coyotes, Wolves Cougars........Forever
5 SCIENTIFIC SOLUTIONS TO PREVENTING OR REDUCING ROADKILL

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