Life is fast-paced, and it always feels like we are rushing to finish everything that must be completed by the end of the day. Finding a problem while in a hurry frequently results in merely patching or even ignoring it, rather than resolving it.
Everyone is guilty of this.
My wife and I often put off fueling up the two vehicles we share. It becomes a game of roulette: Will there be enough fuel in the tank when I get in the car to make it to where I need to go? The low-fuel light seems to show up exactly when I cannot afford to be late; it repeatedly dashes any hope I have of making it to important appointments on time.
Sometimes putting off what needs to be done results in minor inconveniences, like running late. Other times it can lead to more disastrous consequences. If there is a slow leak in a pipe that runs below a frequently traveled road, delaying repairs could allow a sinkhole to develop, completely disrupting traffic or causing someone serious harm.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), roughly 300 million dollars in damages are attributed to the formation of sinkholes every year.
Every day, I see pictures of forgotten pipes sent to me by our field crew: pipes that allow infiltration and exfiltration through joints that have become separated by slowly shifting over the years, spalling concrete that has created openings, and invading roots that have worked their way into the pipe. The goal is to stop the damage and eliminate infiltration and exfiltration before a sinkhole forms and results in total system failure.
On a recent project, I saw the chaos a sinkhole can cause first-hand. A pressurized pipe with joints experiencing exfiltration had slowly displaced the surrounding soil. The exfiltration was not stopped in time, and a sinkhole was created. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt in the incident, but a public road was impassable for a lengthy period of time. The damage extended beyond the road, disturbing the sidewalk that ran alongside the road as well, and the edge of the sinkhole was only several feet from a couple of buildings.
During my time working in the field, I also encountered pipe joints that were repaired with fillers, like grout. Since these makeshift repairs generally only last a handful of years, I often found joints missing portions of the improvised fillers. I regularly saw pipe joints that were severely separated and even some with old traffic signs wedged behind them in an attempt to stop surrounding soil from entering the pipe. Other damaged joints did not even receive this half-hearted repair; the sun peaked in through the holes where soil had slowly crept into the forgotten pipe. In reinforced concrete pipes, I frequently witnessed spalling that had resulted in exposed rebar which had begun rusting. In some instances where the spalling was more severe, I often found portions of the pipe laying in the invert of the pipe.
Aboveground infrastructure is more likely to be rehabilitated when signs of aging present themselves. If an overpass is experiencing spalling on its support columns or piers, it is immediately apparent and will likely grab the attention of anyone who drives under it. Visibility means the repair is more likely to happen before the overpass fails. However, underground infrastructure is at higher risk of being ignored or lazily patched as it ages simply because it remains out of sight.
Only have select points of concern in an otherwise structurally sound pipe? Acting now by using products like the HydraTite Internal Pipe Joint Seal can cut eventual repair costs. Gone are the days of expensive digs to replace decaying pipes.
Is the pipe beyond repair? Replacing it now is better than contributing to the 300 million dollars in damages caused by sinkholes. Preventative measures save money and eliminate potential injuries.
Improvising with fillers or ignoring deteriorating infrastructure may save time in the short term but inevitably results in lost money when the compromised pipes come crashing down. Concerns should be addressed when they are found so that they do not grow into more serious issues down the road. When a problem presents itself, make a permanent fix. The earlier the intervention, the smaller the problem will be.
Take initiative and start using preventative measures at work and home; I will start by fueling up my car on my way home from the office today.