Misconceptions

In December 2015 a lot of the Lake District was harmed and impacted by Storm Desmond and Frank, with flooding destroying houses, rivers and roads all over the county. It might not have had he same local impact of the 2009 floods, but it was certainly more widespread and caused in total a lot more damage. For a while it was strange to be in the epicentre of it all, having only moved to the area three months previously, but the consequences were for us very limited.

There were a few local roads closed, a few locals bridges shut, and a few local shops closed during their refurbishment. After a few months most of the damage that had been impacting us personally had been fixed with a few echoing issues still there, found in the closed shops and the roads with bits still closed off. The A591, the “spine of the Lake District” remained closed until this week, which now opens up what many consider to be the more picturesque side of the national park, and one Con and I are excited to finally get to see.

In the county though there were murmurings of the road being closed for too long. The damage closed the road in December and six months later it is open, fixed and hopefully engineered to survive a similar catastrophic rainfall in the future. From my colleagues who have driven the “new” road, it seems like a lot of has been done – signs have been replaced, repainted and upgraded, with the whole route under a new surface. Lines have been repainted and walls rebuilt. And, of course, the bit where the road had disappeared had gone.

The complaint that it took too long to rebuild understates and misconstrues the real challenge of fixing the road. Not only had the road surface washed away, the road bed, supports, and the hills around had all been compromised. The misconception that road works are something that only take the length of time you see them is quite strong; many seen orange cones and red warning triangles as the start of construction work, but actually before then months if not years of engineering have been undertaken to get to the right solution. I contractors, like the place I work, we don’t just rock up, throw some cones around something, and then “get on with it”. If you did do that, you’d end up with a lot of wasted money, time, and certainly with a wrong solution.

The idea that this was completed, hopefully correctly, within six months from start of initiation to implementation is quite a feat. If the work took three months of works on-site, the engineering then took maybe two months, with the first month of surveying and funding being found. It’s a long lead project shrunk down to a can-do timescale that makes those on the outside frustrated that it took six months, but those of us who have experience of projects like these amazed at how successful it seems to have been.

I went to Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth this past weekend to see the new bridge, the Queensferry Crossing (that I like to call “the Third Forth Bridge”) and the engineering on that was astonishing. So too is the Edinburgh Trams, a large scale project that cost a lot more than was estimated but has undoubtedly brought a nice new transport solution to the city, and was pretty busy for a Saturday afternoon. These projects don’t happen overnight, obviously, and without setbacks, but they are big projects that deserve plaudits when they create something that works. The best design is the one that feels seamless, and many people forget that work that needs to go in to these huge projects.

That these can be built with minimal fuss and minimal injury these days is a triumph of safe working and health and safety, something that really gets thrown about as a bogeyman recently, is undoubtedly a good thing. We engineers deserve more praise, is what I am saying.