I’m going all in on the wall. If we’re going to build the wall with Mexico that Donald Trump has promised – “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall“– I don’t want to be the last to cash in. I’m going to take my 401(K) and invest in America’s future: concrete.
The task at hand is to wall off 1,954 miles of border with an impenetrable shield against illegal border crossings. Ten years of half-hearted attempts by Congress have cost $2.4 billion and so far yielded only 650 miles of barriers. Some are robust, like the 3.5-mile section that protects San Diego from the terrorists gathering across the border. Most of the rest is wire mesh, corrugated iron, or nothing at all because the surrounding terrain prevents both fence builders and fence jumpers from getting there.
Congress, in its wisdom, has doubled the number of border patrol agents over the same period from 10,500 to 21,000 agents. Trump has dismissed their efforts as little more than a catch and release program, but U. S. Customs statistics show border apprehensions as a result have dropped from a high of 1.6 million in 2000 to 400,000 in 2015.
But nothing says YOU ARE NOT WELCOME like a wall. So let’s get down to it. How do we do that? A structural engineer in New York, writing under the pen name Ali F. Rhuzkan, outlined the challenge.
Chain link fencing is not feasible because it is easily breached with a simple wire-cutter. Cinder block is equally porous, and concrete cannot be poured on site because the process is too susceptible to temperature variations. The only viable solution is pre-cast concrete panels held in place by iron pillars, Rhuzhan contends. To deter tunneling, the wall should reach five feet underground and rise at least 20 feet above grade to discourage climbing.
Under the most straight forward design, assuming no deviations in the 1,954 mile path, he estimates the volume of concrete needed for the project would be:
• Foundation: 6 feet deep, 18 inch radius = 42.4 cubic feet
• Column: 4 square feet area by 30 feet tall = 120 cubic feet
• Wall panels: 25 feet tall by 10 feet long by 8 inches thick = 166.7 cubic feet
• Total concrete per 10-foot segment = 329.1 cubic feet
• 1,954 miles = 10,300,000 feet = 1,030,000 segments (10-feet long each)
• 1,030,000 segments * 329.1 cubic feet per segment = 339,000,000 cubic feet = 12,555,000 cubic yards.
So let’s round that off to 12.6 million cubic yards: three times the amount of concrete used to build the Hoover Dam and greater in volume than all six pyramids of the Giza Necropolis in Egypt. That quantity of concrete could pave a one-lane road from New York to Los Angeles, going the long way around the Earth.
But that’s only the start. When you add in the reinforcing rebar (roughly 3 percent of the total wall size), the additional iron required would be 10,190,000 cubic feet, or about 5 billion pounds. The cost of raw materials alone would come to about $17 billion, about the same the annual budget for NASA.
“But the challenge is far greater than simply collecting the necessary raw materials,” Rhuzkan writes. “All of these hundreds of miles of wall would need to be cast in concrete facilities, probably project-specific ones that have been custom built near the border. Then, the pre-cast wall pieces would need to be shipped by truck through the inhospitable, often roadless desert. The men and women doing the work of actually installing the wall would have to be provided with food, water, shelter, lavatory facilities, safety equipment, transportation, and medical care, and would sometimes be miles away from a population center of any size. Sure, some people would be willing to do the work, but at what price? Would Trump hire Mexicans?”
In a press conference last August, Trump boasted to Univision’s Jorge Ramos that building the wall would be “very easy.”
“I’m a builder. That’s easy. I build buildings that are — can I tell you what’s more complicated? What’s more complicated is building a building that’s 95 stories tall.”
What’s more complicated is building that 95-story building sideways 5,400 times in the middle of a desert. It’s all a pipe dream. But count me in. And if somehow this turns out to be impractical, I’m buying into the other big winner in last week’s election — marijuana futures. I’ll have what he’s having.