Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
A mesmerizing time lapse shows how, in a matter of days, the city of Fukuoka filled a nearly 100-foot-wide hole at a busy intersection.
Just a week after a massive sinkhole opened up at a busy intersection in Fukuoka, Japan, the 5-lane stretch of road is back in use—as if nothing ever happened. Pedestrians are crossing at the crosswalks, and cars and bikes are back to sharing the street, as if the nearly 100-foot-wide and 50-foot-deep hole didn’t inhale the asphalt just days before. Traffic lights and other utility poles are up and running, as if they never went out in apocalyptic fashion last Tuesday.
A mesmerizing time lapse video shows city workers working day and night to restore the intersection, which local officials suspect collapsed from construction work on a subway line about 1,000 feet away. The hole not only disrupted a crowded business district, but left surrounding buildings without electricity or water. In just two days, though, workers filled the hole with sand and cement, according to the Guardian. (Fukuoka’s mayor has said that the filler makes the ground 30 times stronger than it was before.) By November 13, the underground pipelines and electricity cables were restored. And two days later, the section was paved, the lines redrawn, and ready to reopen.
Indeed, Japan is no stranger to efficiency. After the 2011 earthquake took out a 500-feet stretch of road on the East Nippon Expressway north of Tokyo, officials repaired it within six days—a symbolic gesture for a country scrambling to rebuild. It also has, for example, an enviable rail infrastructure, as well as an extensive recycling programs to help the country move toward zero waste.
The sinkhole points to a larger problem, though. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has proposed heavy investment in infrastructure spending, in part to boost its economy and in part to prepare for the 2020 Olympics. But Japan has yet to fully tackle its aging infrastructure, especially in smaller towns outside the major cities. According to Reuters, many of its expressways, tunnels, and bridges were built decades ago in the post-war era, which means they’re in need of repair. Underground, its sewer networks and pipelines have also deteriorated over the years.
Although no injuries were reported as a result of last week’s incident (with the exception of a woman who fell after the power went out in her building), the country got a harsh wake-up call in 2012 when a tunnel from the 1970s collapsed west of Tokyo, trapping vehicles and killing nine people. The victims’ families have urged governments to put a larger focus on the decaying infrastructure, but progress is slow. Japan’s governmental institutions are required to inspect all civil engineering projects by 2018, Japan Times reports. But of the 720,000 bridges and 10,000 tunnels to be inspected, state governments have only reviewed 15 percent of the projects in their jurisdictions, and municipal governments have only reviewed 7 percent.
A geoenvironmental engineering professor, Satoru Shimobe at Nihon University, told the local newspaper that sinkholes in particular are also a growing problem, with 4,000 to 5,000 incidents each year. In fact, it’s not the first time Fukuoka has seen a sinkhole; the district saw a smaller one open up back in 2014, also near a subway line.
But you can’t deny that the speed at which this sinkhole was repaired is impressive, not only to Fukuoka’s own residents, who expected the process to take months, but also to people around the world—like in the U.S., where Americans are still grappling with the uncertainty surrounding its own infrastructure and maintenance crisis.