The 2016 Presidential Race has brought many things to the national spotlight. Bad hair aside, what has been one surprisingly poignant topic? America's infrastructure. The poor shape of the country's roads and bridges has dominated this conversation. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) stated that nearly one in nine bridges in the United States is structurally deficient. Repairing and maintaining these bridges is estimated to cost $20.5 billion annually, about $8 billion more than is currently being spent. The enormous economic undertaking to fix crumbling infrastructure may block any nationwide initiative to repair our bridges, however creates the opportunity for cities to think creatively to remedy the problem locally. As a sustainable trend setter, Portland, Oregon is tackling the issue head on through recycling nearly 100% of the construction material towards new uses after the deconstruction of the Sellwood Bridge.
The Sellwood Bridge, one of Portland's 12 major bridges, was constructed in 1925 and passes over the Willamette River south of downtown. Due to budget cuts at the time of construction, the bridge was built with many limitations. The narrow design only allows for two small driving lanes, with no shoulder and a four foot sidewalk. This restricts buses, trucks, and to the dismay of many Portlanders, bicycles from using the bridge. The limitations don’t end with restricted traffic flow. Structurally, the bridge is not suitably built to withstand a major earthquake, which according to some geologists Oregon is long overdue for The Big One.
After nearly a decade of designing and community outreach, the project began construction in 2013. The new bridge will be constructed overtop the existing one, with wider lanes for cars and additional lanes for cycling. The new bridge will be Oregon's first transportation project to receive a Greenroads Certification, a type of certification for green transportation projects similar to LEED certification for buildings. The old bridge would be slowly deconstructed following the opening of the new Sellwood Bridge, and nearly 100% of the materials will be recycled. The concrete will be ground up and sold as aggregate material for construction and the steel melted down and reformed for new uses. The environmental impact of each step in the process was considered, from the deconstruction of the old bridge to the measures taken to build the new one.
This creative type of deconstruction falls under the concept of Circular Economy. One goal of a Circular Economy is to completely eliminate material waste from the industrial system. Using this focus in design opens up new avenues for revenue streams. Materials that would normally be considered waste, costing financial resources to discard are now seen as resources that could generate revenue for the owner. In the case of the Sellwood Bridge, the owner is the City of Portland and its residents. Adopting the Circular Economy into urban planning could open up new revenue streams for cities, and is already happening in some cities, such as Amsterdam. For the daunting task of updating the nation's infrastructure, maybe Portland tapped into a shadow reserve of resources that could be used to tackle a prudent economic question for cities across the globe. Who is going to pay for all of the good stuff a sustainable city promises?
Are there things you, your community or city discard as waste that could be used as something beneficial? How could you adopt the Circular Economy into your own life? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credit: Images by Kevin Gooley. Map created in QGIS by Kevin Gooley. Data linked to sources.