Donald Trump's proposed wall along the Mexican border, if not quixotic, is at least an interesting engineering challenge and thought experiment. As of January 25, President Trump has officially begun to make good on one of his most controversial campaign promises. On Wednesday the President signed directives to build the border wall and to also strip funding from US cities that shield illegal immigrants.
"We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central American is harming both Mexico and the United States," Trump said in remarks reported by Reuters. “And I believe the steps we will take starting right now will improve the safety in both of our countries. ... A nation without borders is not a nation."
Trump said that planning for the wall will begin immediately and that construction could start in as soon as a few months.
But is such a thing even feasible? Despite all evidence to the contrary, the President has notions that Mexico will foot the bill for the roughly 2,000 mile wall (Though to be fair, Trump has adjusted the wall size down to 1,000 miles from his initial proposal) – taking on costs that an analysis done by Politico estimates would total at least $5.1 billion US (not including annual maintenance costs). According to Politico:
"Those estimates come from a 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office [GAO], which found that it costs an average of $3.9 million to build one mile of fencing. About 670 miles of fencing is already up along the 1,989-mile southern border, so finishing the fence that’s already there would cost about $5.1 billion.
But the actual cost is likely much higher, according to experts. The vast majority of the existing border fence is single-layer fencing near urban areas, which is considerably easier to build. Much of the remaining 1,300 miles runs through rough terrains and remote areas without roads, so it’s fair to assume the per-mile cost of finishing the fence would be on the higher end of the GAO’s estimates, which was $15.1 million per mile."
But even setting costs aside, one has to wonder if such an enormous project could even be accomplished in any reasonable amount of time. The last time humans tried something like this – The Great Wall of China – it took centuries of slave labor to make it happen. In a September 2015 article for The National Memo , a structural engineer, writing under the pseudonym Ali F. Rhuzkan took on the challenge of mapping out the logistics of constructing Trump's wall.
|Ali F. Rhuzkan's rendering of an elevation view of the proposed border wall (Image source: Ali F. Rhuzkan / The National Memo)|
Rhuzkan writes: “A successful border wall must be effective, cheap, and easily maintained. It should be built from readily available materials and should take advantage of the capabilities of the existing labor force. The wall should reach about five feet underground to deter tunneling, and should terminate about 20 feet above grade to deter climbing.”
Rhuzkan concludes that building the wall is