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Feb 02, 2024Cold Snap Considerations for Civil and Environmental Engineering 

Cold Snap Considerations for Civil and Environmental Engineering  detail

Digging Deep to Prepare for the Winter Freeze

What civil and environmental engineering considerations help prepare bridges and roads to be ready for the winter freeze? 

January 2024 saw frigid temperatures stream across the United States, affecting nearly every state, including in the deep south where people and infrastructure were largely caught off guard. Even those accustomed to the cold thought twice before venturing out.

In that situation, most people take precautions against damage and danger. But for those of us in the field of civil and environmental engineering, contemplation happens during the planning phase of projects, well in advance of the extreme weather.

Let’s get out our shovels to dig into why civil and environmental engineering professionals need to plan so far ahead.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Factors Brace Against the Elements

When conditions get extreme, it’s easy and important to focus on the immediate situation and surroundings. We think about how to prevent the worst from happening, whether that’s pipes bursting or roads, ramps, and bridges freezing over. But if civil and environmental engineering hasn’t done its job, the solutions might not work, and the problems could multiply. That’s because once the infrastructure is built, there are constraints.

In the planning and design phases of an engineering project, we anticipate potential problems, incorporate space for contingencies, account for environmental impacts, and optimize the structural or system design for the majority of the situations we can anticipate. Here are two examples of civil and structural engineering considerations to get ahead of the winter freeze.

Freezing Pipes and Water Management System Design

Anyone who lives in the northern part of the U.S. knows that when temperatures dip below zero for extended periods of time, pipes are at risk of bursting. And if it’s ever happened to you, you know that no good can come of it as flooding begins, requiring emergency response and repairs.

The precaution people take to avoid such a catastrophe is to turn faucets on to a slow drizzle and leave them running. When that happens across an entire water distribution system, it increases demand even at a minimal flow rate per household. That could mean even bigger trouble in the form of time, effort, and money if the civil and environmental engineering team designing that system didn’t plan for the additional capacity to meet demand.

Our Utilities Engineering team works with municipalities large and small, using the latest technology and in-house design software to ensure that the capacity is sufficient across water treatment plants, pump stations, and waterlines. From original environmental assessments, planning, and design, to line extensions and emergency management consultation, our engineers have a major role to play in mitigating or addressing the risks of extreme weather.

Innovative Ways to Guard Against Freezing Bridges and Roadways

Another critical area for civil and environmental engineering consideration is the surface of bridges and roadways. Not only are ice, snow, and standing water a safety concern for drivers but the rock salt used to keep them from freezing also sets the pavement up for potential potholes after the thaw. The planning and design phase is where we evaluate and specify everything from road slope and proper drainage to structural elements like fencing and curve banking that contribute to safer roads.

Here are two examples of intriguing innovations that are being developed that can help guard against freezing bridges and roadways and the resulting pothole risk.

  • Solar Roadways: According to the developer, “Solar Roadways® panels have an integrated heating component. The heating system in Solar Roadways® maintains a temperature above freezing. This keeps the road free of snow and ice. Since more than 70% of the U.S. population lives in snowy regions, this system could be a crucial solution to maintaining safe road conditions. The implementation of a heated roadway system would also save a significant amount of time in snow removal.” 
  • Self-De-Icing Asphalt: According to the December 14, 2020. World Highways article, A new additive for self-de-icing asphalt mixture roads in winter, By Shahin Eskandarsefat, “The idea is to add de-icers to the asphalt mix during the production. This type of additive is a convenient solution for areas of high risk of accidents such as busy intersections, hilly streets, or icy zones. By reducing the adherence between ice and road surface these pavements provide safer driving conditions alongside less winter maintenance costs. From another point of view, since this type of additive reduces the freezing point of the pavement, the number of the freeze/thaw cycles will be reduced, making the road less susceptible to damage and giving the road longer life.”

Learn More About Civil and Environmental Engineering

We specialize in thinking ahead and considering the surrounding environment to avoid problems and extra costs down the road. To learn more about all of our civil and environmental engineering areas of expertise, visit our Services page or contact us with any questions.

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