With ongoing rainstorms and occasional flooding that has hit many areas on the north shore recently, water drainage and erosion is a concern to many. This of course jogged my memory to look for an update on a story I broke earlier this year.
On April 30th, I posted a story with photos that illustrated many visible concerns and defects of several retaining walls along the Sea to Sky Highway in West Vancouver/Lions Bay area.
Among them, bulging walls, block movement, blocked drains and more. Before you continue, I suggest a quick look back to get yourself up to speed on this, or refresh your memory: https://lailayuile.com/2014/04/30/troubling-photos-spark-ministry-of-transportation-inspections-of-sea-to-sky-retaining-walls-creating-new-concerns-over-kiewit-construction/
The ministries response at that time to the defects identified in the photos was they had done their own inspection,the issue was cosmetic and did not affect the structural integrity of the walls.
However, further photos taken more recently continued to show outward bulges in the walls-something recognized by both government and industry as a potential indicator of stress or deterioration that should be assessed and monitored.
As mentioned above,in May of this year ministry officials stated that they had inspected the walls following receipt of the photos.
However,email correspondence from a Ministry of Transportation operations manager in September of this year,indicated it was actually highway builder Kiewit, that had inspected and reviewed the walls:
“I am out of town at the moment but wanted to give you a quick update. We just received some information from Peter Keiwett regarding the walls in Horseshoe Bay.
Their investigation and review did not note any changes or concerns with the walls.
We are reviewing what was submitted.”
I contacted the operations manager in question, “to confirm whether or not MOTH( ministry of transportation and highways) had reviewed the Kiewit inspections of the MSE( mechanically stabilized earth) retaining walls on the Sea to Sky, and what the findings were.
Has the ministry done their own inspection since the photos were taken?”
“Thank you for getting in touch with me on the status of the retaining walls built as part of the Sea to Sky project. To answer your question, Yes our team have reviewed the correspondence/documentation and walls along the Upper Levels.
I’ll also note that the walls underwent an inspection in 2013 and another routine inspection is planned for 2018, as per the Ministry’s standard frequency of every five years for this type of structure. There were no significant structural issues identified during the inspections.”
The operations manager has not responded to further questions clarifying the statement that ” no ‘significant’ structural issues” were identified, which seems to indicate that structural issues may have been identified but not considered to be significant in nature.
To summarize, the province initially stated the defects were all cosmetic in May. The September email from the operation manager stated Kiewit’s inspection found no changes or concerns, and now the response from that same operations manager states no ‘significant’ structural issues.
The multi-million dollar question remains: what exactly is the problem with these bulging and out of plumb retaining walls?
I question the process that allows the builder Kiewit to inspect their own work prior to a full review by provincial employees or engineers.
Kiewit was the builder of the now infamous retaining wall on Lougheed Highway that failed and finally had to be partially torn down and rebuilt after it was determined it would not meet provincial building standards. http://www.journalofcommerce.com/Home/News/2011/8/Highway-retaining-wall-being-rebuilt-in-Coquitlam-British-Columbia-JOC046056W/
Kiewit also made the news pertaining to a retaining wall collapse in California, in which Kiewit, a subcontractor and the project designer are all suing each other: Kiewit claims the product was defective, while the subcontractor accuses Kiewit of inadequate drainage design and installation.http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20131019/san-diego-405-freeway-work-delayed-by-faulty-retaining-walls
And of course, who can forget the American Kiewit story that prompted the Ministry of Transportation to issue a statement of confidence in the companies involvement in many provincial projects, including the Port Mann bridge project https://lailayuile.com/2012/11/10/port-mann-bridge-builder-kiewit-faces-construction-concerns-in-the-u-s/
Pennsylvania DOT ( Department of Transportation) has a stringent guideline for examination of MSE retaining walls and cross indexing the issues shown in the photos with the following list, several indicators can be checked off:
-bulging, bowing, panel offset, visibility of backfill or geotextile fabric, variation in joint spacing,
The province previously assured the public the walls are safe.
The question that taxpayers should now be asking- in particular since this wall is only about 5 years old- is whether or not the flaws that have become evident were built into the wall from the very beginning.
( interesting to note here the private partner was never able to get the electronic sensing equipment installed in the highway to work properly either, as reported on page 24 of the BC auditors report , linked to on the Auditor Generals site here: http://www.bcauditor.com/pubs/2012/report4/audits-two-p3-projects-sea-sky-corridor and here https://lailayuile.com/2010/11/18/sea-to-sky-operator-awards-transtoll-technical-advisory-contract-to-ensure-accurate-shadow-toll-vehicle-counts-despite-the-government-making-repeatedly-and-vehementlydenying-their-existance/ )
The ministry representative and operation manager have not responded further to the following questions:
1) What structural issues-minor or not- have been discovered and what is the plan for remediation?
2) Are any costs involved covered by warranty or does the province absorb the cost?
3) Who has signed off on the integrity of the wall?