Sunday, March 23, 2008

Road Construction: A Real Life Learning Experience

Contractors have been working most of the past month to complete a new road that will access the new phase of our development in the high meadow. The road is an extension of our road, Los Pecos Trail. It runs south of our house, where it will join a new road, Los Pecos Loop, that will access the hillside east of the end of Los Pecos, and the meadow west and south of it. N. and I have decided to make the best of the noise, dust and inconvenience in order to learn about how developments are planned and roads are built.

Neither N. nor I have seen a road completely built, and since our developer is a civil engineer of great skill, we are seeing a road built RIGHT.

Last fall, before the snow, the worker cleared the right-away of vegetation, and rocks, and created the road bed.

To do so in our area, they had to stabilize the clay soil by mixing it with lime.

In our mountains, the soil is a clay-loam neosol that sits on top of the Pennsylvanian Madera Formation limestone, which is faulted, cracked and pitted with solution basins. The soil on top of the Madera is full of expandible clay minerals that hold cations on the surface of each crystal. The anionic lime attracts and bonds with these cations and makes the clay less likely to expand in the presence of water. This is important to keep the road bed on top of it from cracking and slipping and slumping.

Another important part of building a road from scratch, is the job of bringing utilities along it and up to the property lines of the new lots.

According to the East Mountain Plan, all utilities must be brought in underground for added safety and to preserve views. So in the past two weeks or so, five-foot trenches have been dug along one side of the right-away, along the entire new road.
In this trench, you can see the conduits through which run electrical lines, and fiberoptic cable for telephone and internet service. Cable television is not available in this area, so if folks want luxury TV, they get satellite networks installed.

The water lines were installed separately last fall. We actually had a trench across our driveway for a little while for that job.

In most of the East Mountain communities, there are no sewer systems nor is there a municipal treatment system, because most of us do not live in municipalities. So each homeowner installs a septic system and leech field. Some communities do gray-water processing, and those residents put in a partial, black-water septic system. One community here has an organic waste processing system that recycles both gray and black-water. They use it to support a golf course.

Here in the high meadow, the utilities can be seen at the property lines. In the center, are conduits that contain electrical wires and fiberoptic cables. On either side, the white cylinders are protective casing for water line check-valves, that will eventually be hooked up to water meters. Here, our water is provided by a water co-operative, and each lot owner must buy a membership.

Yes, even here in the boonies, we have fire hydrants. They are required as part of the East Mountain Fire-Wise Plan. Each development must not only install hydrants, but also puts together a fire plan that includes rules about vegetation, and also an evacuation plan in case of wild fire.

In our neck of the woods, natural gas lines are also uncommon. Most of us have a propane tank leased from a proprane company, and many of us have alternative heating, such as passive solar and/or wood and pellet stoves.

We also learned a lot about drainage issues that come with the development of roads. Dirt roads drain more naturally, but become rutted and impassible during mudtime in the spring. And even the grade of dirt roads can block arroyos and small drainages.

Asfalt roads are more convenient but creat greater drainage problems because runoff is rapid. The head of the Sedillo Canyon drainage runs right through our development, and the new road crosses it. The drainage itself will be open space, so as not to impede the movement of water downstream. But the road needs a culvert, about 100 yards above the canyon proper. The upstream side is pictured.

This is the most serious culvert I have seen in our development. The pipes are about four feet in diameter. The rocks are placed on a liner in a sag-pond arrangement, that will slow down the flow across the culvert in times of heavy rain, rationing the water that runs into the canyon in order to preserve a more natural flow rate.

At other points along the road, small rock walls, small dams, and artificial rills have been created on the upstream side, in order to slow the flow of water onto the road. This will prevent pooling and flooding, and also will prevent mudslides onto the road. (Yes that is snow above the rock dam. It is taking a long time to melt even with the recent warm weather).

Mother nature destests unnatural flat zones on hillsides, and will use weathering to even out the slope again. So roads on hillsides require constant maintenance to keep them clear.

What is really cool about this project, is that no rocks have been brought in. All of the rock used for preparing the roadbed and for drainage was dug out of the hillsides to make way for the roadbed.

Unschooling means that we can take the opportunity to learn from what is happening right here and now. In fact, not only is N. studying numerous subjects in unconventional ways, but I am learning something new every day. Through our talks with the work crew and our study of the new road, we are learning about Geology, Geomorphology, Hydrology, Civil Engineering, Physics, and more. Think of the social skills N. is practicing by asking intelligent questions of the work crews, and seeking to know about their lives and work. And he is learning about difference cultures and languages, too. Many of the workers speak excellent Spanish. I never thought I'd learn how to say 'front-end loader' in Spanish.

This is all, as N. puts it, "Way too cool!"


Shez said...

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw your post pop up in my google reader. Last night Ben asked me how roads were built and I promised him that we would do research on the topic this morning. Now all I have to do is read your blog posting with him. Thank you.

May I enter it into the The Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers 3rd edition?

This cool, real life learning experience is what I want to bring to my readers.

Hope you had a good Purim. I can't resist showing pics of my twins in their Purim Gear. They designed and made the outfits themselves.


Rational Jenn said...

My son was fascinated by the story and your pictures! I think he's hoping for some major construction to happen near our house so he can be in the enviable position of talking to the workers (he calls them "peopleguys") and learning about their work. Thanks!

Shez said...

Here's the link to enter this post in the Carnival of cool homeschoolers.

from Homeschooled Twins

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Shez:
I did enjoy your twins pictures in their Purim gear! I think N. had a great deal of fun helping the little ones at our sisterhood Purim carnival. The Megillah reading was okay, but I think he really enjoyed wearing the Volunteer In Purim (VIP) Badge! :)

Jenn: Oh, I love how your little guy calls workers "peopleguys." I even told my dh about it. For me, the greatest fun of homeschooling is learning all of this stuff that I always wanted to know and now have the excuse to learn about. Oh, and N. says that if you can talk to construction "peopleguys" at their lunch break, they not only will share all their best construction stories, but also goodies!