Investment in climate resilient infrastructure is imperative as climate-related factors contribute to increased droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. In 2022, the United States faced 18 weather and climate disasters costing at least $1 billion, while Canada saw a record-breaking year of wildfires covering an area twice the size of Portugal. Without changes, climate-related infrastructure failures could cost Canada $300 billion over the next decade.
Research by MIT's Concrete Sustainability Hub shows that such investments in climate resilient infrastructure often pay for themselves in just two years in hazard-prone regions. Every dollar spent on resilience can save up to $11 in long-term repair costs.
With a history of over 325 transportation and 470 water and wastewater projects, PCL Construction integrates climate resilience into its work. Known for bringing innovative solutions to the table and cutting-edge technologies, PCL is at the forefront of these transformative climate resilient infrastructure projects gaining momentum across North America.
When tackling climate challenges on diverse civil infrastructure projects, PCL has identified resilient solutions for clients in the transportation, water and wastewater markets. The team is collaborating with the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona (WIFA) to tackle the pressing issue of water shortages within the state. In 2022, Arizona was asked to cut its Colorado River water usage by 20%, a response to exceedingly low water levels which further exacerbated the state’s water crisis. PCL is playing a pivotal role in formulating solutions to address the urgent water scarcity in Arizona.
Unlike conventional project processes where clients typically identify a need and subsequently engage a builder, PCL's involvement with WIFA represents a unique approach. In this instance, PCL is part of the ideation phase, offering concepts and strategies to create projects that will effectively enhance the water supply in Arizona.
“It's an exciting opportunity to partner with other industry leaders and be pioneers, focusing on holistic solutions right from the start,” said Mauricio Ramos, district manager for PCL’s civil infrastructure division in the U.S.
The issue of water scarcity isn't unique to Arizona; it's a widespread concern affecting numerous regions across North America. Communities are grappling with a range of challenges, such as droughts, contaminated groundwater and inadequate infrastructure for water access. In response, there's a continuous need for water reuse facilities to repurpose wastewater for non-potable and potable uses. PCL has experience building a variety of innovative water reuse and drought resiliency projects, including advanced water purification systems which are starting to gain traction across the U.S. Currently, PCL is working on an advanced water purification project in Texas, a multiple-stage treatment process that will transform treated wastewater into safe, reliable drinking water.
The growing momentum in water reuse initiatives is just one facet of PCL's broader commitment to sustainability and climate resilience. This commitment extends beyond water management to encompass a wide range of climate resilient projects across various sectors, including buildings and infrastructure. PCL has identified and helped clients ensure projects are built for the future and can withstand extreme weather events. For instance, on the $400+ million St. Albert Trail to 97 Street segment of the Yellowhead Trail Freeway Conversion project in Edmonton, PCL reimagined the original approach of building an underground storm tank on a project to mitigate flooding concerns.
“Instead of constructing a very large concrete storm tank beneath the road, the team advocated for raising the interchange to leverage gravity for efficient water drainage,” said Ian McKinnon, manager of PCL’s civil operations in Canada. “This constructability design value suggestion created a significant reduction of ongoing maintenance and helped prepare for a 100-year storm.”
Similarly, on a design-build civil project in Miami, PCL’s attention to detail during the design stage paid off. Observing in the Building Information Model that electrical conduits below the elevated building slab were exposed to flood risks, the team made the critical decision to encase these conduits in concrete, a modification not originally envisioned but essential for long-term resilience.
Not only does PCL bring expertise to climate-resilient infrastructure solutions but the company brings experience in Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) certification. Envision is similar to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certification but applies to public infrastructure and focuses on the impact to communities while LEED applies to public or private construction and focuses on occupancy comfort and energy efficiency.
According to the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, Envision was designed to help infrastructure stakeholders implement more sustainable, resilient, and equitable projects. To earn this coveted certification, projects are required to demonstrate their commitment to being carbon neutral, viable over the long term, resilient in the face of climate change, and designed to be both fiscally responsible and resource efficient.
“There is a growing trend among clients who are increasingly inquiring about the Envision certification. This rating system, relatively new but rapidly gaining popularity, is particularly attractive to municipalities aiming to develop sustainable, resilient, and equitable civil projects,” said Ramos.
A noteworthy project in Salt Lake City currently stands as a prime example of the company's commitment to Envision credentials. This project, the second-largest public infrastructure project undertaken by the city will have the capacity to process 48 million gallons of wastewater while being strategically designed to accommodate future expansion and meet stringent water quality standards. In its pursuit of Envision certification, this project is targeting a minimum of 25% recycled material usage during construction, with a goal of achieving a 50% reduction in construction waste. So far, 77,000 tons of material have been recycled that might otherwise have ended up in landfills. Additionally, all excavated materials have been responsibly sourced or repurposed within a five-mile radius of the project site, emphasizing the commitment to sustainability and minimizing environmental impact.
When it comes to building for climate resiliency, technology plays an important role. Software like PCL’s own technology Job Site Insights™ (JSI™) allows teams to monitor the humidity and moisture levels during construction with 100% precision and accuracy to maintain quality. This sensor technology monitors heat and moisture tolerances to ensure concrete foundations set to their maximum strength and can withstand extreme weather events such as a hurricane.
PCL continues to use concrete JSI™ sensors to assure the right strength is achieved for the infrastructure they are building.
“The other success we’ve had with our JSI™ sensor is during the application process of high-performance coatings used in water and wastewater treatment plant projects,” said Ramos.
These coatings are applied inside the tanks and JSI™ sensors help assure that the humidity and the temperatures are tracked so the coatings are being applied under the right conditions.
“This type of technology is helping us apply quality thinking, so we know that what we’re building contributes to PCL’s vision of building a better future together with our clients, stakeholders and communities,” said Ramos.
With clients now actively incorporating climate resilience into their prequalification inquiries, this signifies a pivotal moment in our industry.
“Not only are we building smarter and stronger, but we are also heeding the call to create infrastructure that can withstand the challenges of a rapidly changing climate,” said McKinnon.
Across North America, there are investments like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that dedicates $50 billion towards protecting against droughts, heat and floods in the U.S. Similarly, in Canada, the Climate Resilient Built Environment initiative designates $46.7 million toward climate resilient programs.
“The path forward is clear: we must embrace the evolving landscape of sustainability and climate resilience, working hand in hand with clients to create a more resilient and sustainable future for all,” said Ramos.