How to Actually Build Trump's Controversial Border Wall

How feasible is the President's US-Mexico Border Wall?

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

Comments

While author Chis Wiltz gives a somewhat technical approach to the Trump's proposed "Wall", he shows a lack of tact (adroitness and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues) when selecting a proper (or more sensible) title and introduction for his article. Then, he fails to properly cite the true focus and meaning of the "Prison Wall" document written by a group of mexicans, that wrote a fine and elegant sarcasm that contains important elements that author omitted...

While autor Wiltz gives a somewhat technical view of Trump's obssesive idea, he lacks the tact and sensibility to properly name his article. He also fails to fully convey the true meaning of the elegant satire written by Estudio 3.14, omitting important parts of that work: "the wall is not only a wall—as you can see in the hill landscape cross-section: it is a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported" in the most pure Nazi style...

(2)... I'm surprised a serious site like Design News published the article without weighting the delicate nature of the subject, even showing some sketches and "specs"... which is a good example of bad taste (just imagine what would be the reaction IF a mexican publication dare to write an article on how to design artillery for leveling the battlefield and shoot down american drones! While I can understand the objective of the article, it should have been written with more civility...

Jerald Cogswell's picture
Alfredo, I suspect that the author is writing tongue in cheek to show the "gorgeous perversity" of this ridiculous project. Spend billions to discourage people who have traversed deserts and bandits to find - oh darn, a wall. It highlights the irrational depths that xenophobia and fear mongering can take us. We compare the environmental impact (concrete and steel and animal migration) with the final paragraph suggesting solar panels as a better job creator. reductio ad absurdum.

(3)...Please let me say that I'm a Mexican engineer that has worked together with maybe hundreds of North American colleagues the last 38 years, and made good friends among many of them, even when monetary interests of their companies frequently tried to abuse or take disproportionate advantage of our nation, but firm ethics, mutual respect and professionalism has always solved our differences. Lets hope good engineers in US keep their moral values much higher than politicians. Amclaussen.

The wall as described would be a huge waste of resources, both time and materials. My suggestion ought to be much better, which is to open the border by means of adding an additional class of individuals, which would allow those wanting to work to come in but not have the benefits of being legally present. Then the only ones trying to cross outside of entry points would be the drug smugglers, which would then be "fair game" for interception by armed drones. This would avoid the impact on animal

Interesting article! It's always fun to see a few people actually put a little pencil to paper and explore the question. Estudio 3.14's creative vision and even the solar panel idea were also interesting thought experiments. I doubt many people have given much, if any, thought into the magnitude and scale of such a project. Nevermind the insane cost, the environment impact alone would be tremendous.

(continued) avoid the impact on animals that a wall would have. What would be needed is a row of signs telling travelers that they were at the border of a forbidden zone with a hazard of death. Given that all but smugglers could enter at the regular entry points only smugglers would be trying anything else.

Two guys with spades can probably in 10 minutes dig a small passage under the fence in places with much soft sand, 5 feet under ground is not enough.

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