Erosion destroyed this Ventura bike path and part of a parking lot built on fill. Photo by NOAA

INSIGHT: Highways, Infrastructure, Storms—It's Time to Focus on Prevention

Each time we face another hurricane, tornado or strong storm, it’s hard not to wonder how it will impact our communities. What will happen to our roads, bridges, levees, airports, homes power plants—or other piece of transportation infrastructure.

Weather events have increased in strength and number in recent years. In fact, 12 of the 15 most expensive insured disasters worldwide between 1970 and 2015 have happened since 2000. Three-fourths of those occurred in the United States.

At the same time, our infrastructure has experienced steady decline. Civil engineers grading the condition of infrastructure have not, since 1988, given roads a grade any better than a D+. Bridge conditions have failed to rise above a C+ since first being ranked in 1998.

Combine the rising costs of replacing storm damage with the declining condition of our transportation networks, and you quickly realize the increasing danger we face with each approaching storm.

Spend Up Front, Save More Later

Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in partnership with the cement industry, shows that our nation could do better by building projects that can withstand the swelling force of the elements. For some hazard-prone areas, that might mean replacing typical light-frame construction with more hazard-resistant structural solutions. In others, it may simply involve increasing the nail size in roof panels, increasing the resistance of roof shingles, and using window shutters.

While these higher standards of construction cost slightly more initially, our research shows that they have lower costs over the long-term due to repairs from hazard damage. In some cases, like in hurricane-prone New Orleans, investments in resilient construction can pay back in as soon as two years.

Author Information

Dr. Jeremy Gregory is executive director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub.

Michael Ireland is CEO of the Portland Cement Association, which includes companies like LaFargeHolcim (LHN.EB), Cemex (CX), and Oldcastle/Ash Grove (CRH).

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