Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Big Drip

Every morning I try to listen to the radio while I drink my coffee and dig deep inside myself to find the motivation to start working. As Mikey has so eloquently pointed out, Buffalo radio is horrid. Luckily, and take note of this one Baby Boomers, I listen to stations from Boston that broadcast over the internet. My favorite is WERS, Emerson University Radio. Their morning programming is a mellow, but upbeat show called “The Coffeehouse”. The music is mostly acoustic. There is very little talk. And, I can catch up on the news in good ol’ Boston.

Here’s one that caught me ear.

In case you hadn’t heard, there is a construction project in Boston called The Big Dig. Pretty silly name when you think about it. They put most of the dirt back where they found it. Anyway, after billions and billions of taxpayer contribution dollars, the ugly, prehistoric highways running through the center of the city are, for the most part, a thing of the past. All traffic has been diverted underground, happily running in that marvel of modern engineering, concrete tunnels.

When we lived in Boston, it was not a fun place to drive (from what I understand, it’s not much better today). Every week, the newspaper would list the street diversions and closings due to underground construction work. Got Traffic?

But, also during my tenure in Beantown, there were some highly touted milestones amidst the chaos. Two tunnel excavations successfully intersected after years of digging towards each other with no way of positively knowing whether they were properly aligned. Immense sections of reinforced concrete tunnels were sunk 100 feet underwater and joined with an accuracy measured in millimeters. Over the years, I became quite proud of the continuous parade of engineering marvels in our back yard.

Last year it started to leak. Whoops.

Like France in World War II, multiple sections of the multi-billion dollar, high-tech tunnels are letting water, the arch-enemy, march right in. I drove through some of these tunnels last May. It is more than disturbing to think about that fact while traversing though the actual sections in question. What is even worse is that no one knows the cause. It could be shoddy construction. It could be faulty materials. It could be bad design.

The latest theory? Cold weather.

Someone has postulated that thermal differentiation is causing the steel girders to shrink and open up gaps in the tunnel sections, creating paths for water infiltration. The theory holds water only if the original designers did not factor the thermal differentiation into their calculations. Engineers are currently testing the girders.

Personally, I find this theory far-fetched. Every man in the world knows that things shrink in cold weather.