Extensive repair work planned for Sea to Sky retaining wall – one year after problems on 3 others first reported here.

Breaking news by Dave White of News 1130 yesterday, after receiving a tip on a work order given to West Vancouver residents of work on a retaining wall:

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Roughly five years after a major rebuild was completed, News1130 has learned the Sea to Sky Highway already needs significant repairs.

A retaining wall in West Vancouver is causing problems.

It’s just north of the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, above Pasco Road, a small, residential road with remote access.

A construction bulletin was sent by the province to people living on that road on April 8th, telling them soil anchors need to be installed, and a new-reinforced wall face needs to be constructed.

For people living in the area, this means no access to their homes for eight hours a day from this time next week until the end of September.

The Sea to Sky Highway was largely rebuilt by contractors Peter Kiewit and Sons for the Olympics, completed in 2009.

This is not the first retaining wall built by Kiewit on the South Coast that has needed repair. Back in 2011, a retaining wall in Coquitlam as part of the Highway One expansion had to be rebuilt.

It was April 30th, 2014 when I first broke the story of how troubling photos of 3 other retaining walls on the Sea to Sky highway,had prompted the Ministry of Transportation to re-inspect all of the walls: 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 Ministry of Transportation is investigating the condition of at least three MSE (Mechanically Stabilized Earth) retaining walls along the Sea to Sky Highway, according to sources close to the project.

This action finally comes after specific Ministry employee’s received the photos shown below – in February of this year – that show clear flaws, deficiencies and structural concerns that sources indicate out-of-spec walls. Major defects show large open gaps in the concrete panels, water seepage behind walls, walls that are “out of batter” ( leaning the wrong way) and possible vertical movement of the walls. *terminology link found here for reference.

In some areas, the gaps are so wide that the tongue and groove elements are no longer meshed and it is possible to reach in and feel the geotextile cloth behind. While the photos were taken earlier this year in a cold snap, follow-up visits during rainy weather have shown very little water coming out of installed drainage pipes installed for such purpose, and a build up of water behind the wall with seepage from under the wall in other areas.

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The response from the Ministry at that time was that they had investigated all the walls, and that it was merely a cosmetic issue. The BCNDP did not comment at that time, although they were fully apprised of the situation.

In November of 2014, I followed up that post with another, with excerpts from emails indicating that Kiewit – the builder of the highway- had inspected their own work:


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?”

His response:

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.”

No ‘significant’ structural issues…. just minor ones.  On a highway that is only 5 years old.

I asked then:

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?

To this day, and this new story, there are no answers to those questions.

Today NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena brought up the most recent repair in the legislature,asking why repairs are needed on what is essentially a brand new highway and asked the Minister of Transportation Todd Stone to submit the safety reports/audit of the retaining walls.

Minister Stone replied that at times mitigating work is done on all corridors in the province( making this sound like routine maintenance), and completely and quite shamefully evaded her questions on the safety/inspection reports by talking about how the NDP opposed many projects in the province! ( As one reader asked online: Is the new Liberal version of Stone-walling? Clever!)

And that was it. ( I’ll post a transcript as it becomes available)

The work that the ministry is conducting on the Pasco Road retaining wall  are not minor repairs. This is 5 months of work to not only install soil anchors, but to construct a new reinforced facing.

Soil anchors installed in retaining walls after they are built, are done so to reinforce and repair retaining walls damaged by lateral loads, or those showing signs of stress or failure.

Here’s an example of what they look like, installed in a retaining wall on a Hwy 1 overpass years after construction


The anchors are drilled into the wall, typically at an angle to provide support and prevent further movement.

One would not expect these kinds of repairs typically in a highway only 5 years old, which leads me back to my original posts ,and questions linked to above.

There are 216 retaining walls built into this highway, and the three I detail in photos at the above links show alarming changes- for the amount of money this highway cost, somebody has some explaining to do.

Was this shoddy construction? Was it rushed? Sources in my prior posts gave a few ideas- I invite you to go back and read both posts.

Minister of  Transportation Todd Stone needs to immediately release the safety inspection reports of all 219 retaining walls along the sea to sky highway, along with a full explanation as to why, on a project billed as a marvel of engineering, after only 5 years, structural repairs are needed at all.

Kiewit, the builder of this highway, has come under examination in the past for a failed retaining wall on the Lougheed highway not built to standards  – something that the minister might want to take into consideration: http://journalofcommerce.com/Home/News/2011/8/Highway-retaining-wall-being-rebuilt-in-Coquitlam-British-Columbia-JOC046056W/

They’ve also come under fire for safety violations on various projects: http://lailayuile.com/2014/12/19/kiewit-general-comitted-willful-and-serious-safety-violations-in-washington-state-accident-fined-150000/

I’ll keep updating this story as it develops, but tune back in tomorrow, as I bring yet another update, on yet another Kiewit built project.

18 thoughts on “Extensive repair work planned for Sea to Sky retaining wall – one year after problems on 3 others first reported here.

    1. Surely the Transportation Minister Todd Stone has been misquoted by BC CTV News:

      The Last Three paragraphs:

      Trevena says she has concerns that construction shortcuts may have been taken on the highway because it was only built five years ago and it already requires structural repairs.

      British Columbia’s government spent $600 million to widen and straighten large sections of the Sea-to-Sky Highway, known for its deadly vehicle crashes, in time for the 2010 Games.

      A dedicated tip line has also been set up to gather information on the violence, at 604-915-6566


      Sounds more like Surrey


    1. I’ll have more on this soon.

      This is so indicative of a deeper problem completely aided and abetted by the contract itself.

      Contracts as you know, contain deadline bonuses for meeting specific construction goals by a certain date.

      Of course, construction rarely goes as planned and most projects do encounter hurdles whether it’s material supply issues, trouble like the Port Mann build had with sinking construction on the one end etc.

      So, its hard to meet those deadline, but because the bonus offered to do so is so large, and so lucrative, contractors will push to get things done and cut corners – knowing full well it may fail to meet standards and have to be repaired within a short time of completion.

      In fact those bonuses are so lucrative, that even factoring how much it will cost them to repair infrastructure afterwards, they still come out on top because of all the bonuses they can haul in along the way by keeping to the contract milestones.

      In essence,an unrealistic building deadline set by the province and agreed to by the builder, is a recipe for sub standard construction because it’s rushed and things like this retaining wall, and the others happen.

      Scanning the morning news as I wait for the biscuits to bake, I love how Todd Stone say rebuilding a retaining wall face and installing soil anchors is just normal.. and I quote: making repairs like this to a project just five years after its completion is normal.

      “Whether you are talking about recent projects like the South Fraser Perimeter Road for example where we have seen you know some minor issues that have popped up that have had to be dealt with or on the Trans-Canada Highway.

      Stone adds there are no other known areas of concern along the Sea-to-Sky. He says inspections happen every day. ”

      Good grief. I have emails stating when the last inspection was for those retaining walls and the next one was planned until those photos showed up – that was 2018. That the government lies so blatantly in the face of it, shouldn’t astound me anymore, but it still does.

      And this is anything but routine maintenance. Government babble, pure and simple.

      There are big issues on the new SFPR as well. Huge dips in the road, overpasses that are showing signs of movement. The William R Bennett bridge needed it’s expansion joints replaced after the build. I’ve written about that story as well.

      Of course, Todd Stone can set this all straight right now if he really thinks I’m incorrect about all this and release the inspection findings from the extensive inspection Kiewit did on their own work last year, and agree to an independent safety inspection from an independent company.

      But I suspect that won’t be happening anytime soon.


  1. For anyone to be surprised that a Government project was poorly designed or built is shocking, ! Our grade 6 students who oversee operations and quality control do the best they can. The Port Mann with lanes that go nowhere, can’t use HOV when exiting to Lougheed, close off one lane going to 108th so you have to enter the exit midway on the bridge. Hey North Van Grumps you don’t have to pay to use a poorly designed FREEway!


  2. Hmm. Not sure what to say about that.

    But look here. Two links that both indicate design life span for new infrastructure on the Sea to Sky highway is 75 years. Those walls are brand new. There shouldn’t be any rebuilds to enhance their lifespan… if built properly, they should be meeting the contract specs- they arent!

    Pg 6- http://www.transportation.alberta.ca/content/docType246/Production/10bcs25.pdf

    Pg 4- http://conf.tac-atc.ca/english/resourcecentre/readingroom/conference/conf2009/pdf/Holmes.pdf


  3. Laila, you talk of “…trouble that the Port Mann build had with sinking construction on the one end etc.” (that would be the west, or Vancouver end). For what its worth, one of Phil Gaglardi’s minions told me back in ’64 (Wow! that bridge was almost 50 years old when they abandoned it) that the reason the bridge curved to the left instead of going straight was because they couldn’t find any foundation at that end. It was redesigned with the curve while under construction.
    The point being that it was well known 50 years ago that the west end was unstable and that information should have been incorporated in any future design.


  4. Me again. I urge all your readers to click on your last reference – the one prepared by the MMM Design Group. Pay particular attention to the $600 Million DBFM Contract to Design, Build, Finance and Maintain said highway for 25 years. Of which 5 or 6 years is complete – for $600 Million, not $1,500 million as Norm has stated, “But that cannot be” stated Kevin Falcon, “Its a fixed price Contract”.
    Then read further and take note of all the cost benefits, reduced costs and savings encountered. Do these accrue to the Owner? Probably not, because these are part of the benefit of a fixed price contract – you win a few and lose a few and hope you’re ahead in the end, Nowhere in the whole report is there any indication of an entitlement for additional payment.
    So why was there?


  5. I am no fan of Kiewit or any other ‘favourites’ of government. The relationships are usually rife with corruption and stink like week-old fish. But – to be fair (as far I can be fair given my bias) – the contractor builds to what the engineers specify. Any faults MAY be due to the engineers. Just sayin’….
    And, for the record, the courts have found – in so many cases that it must be a precedent by now – that even a fixed price contract is an attempt at predicting the future and, because no can do that, a sloppy-factor is almost always allowed. The last time I had that conversation, the sloppy factor was 20%. That means I can give you a FIXED price construction contract ($1M) and still bill you 20% more ($1.2M) and, if you don’t pay and we go to court, I will likely (more often than not) WIN. And that does NOT include change orders (the normal way contractors boost the bill).
    The best way to do any construction contract is cost-plus with YOU knowing how it should go and an immediate arbitration clause built in (not one that takes a year to implement). Fixed price is always an already-padded contract that has a 20% further addition if the contractor pushes it.


  6. […] It was then discovered in April,2015, that two other retaining walls on the Sea to Sky highway that actually appeared to have no visible defects, were undergoing extensive repair work. https://lailayuile.com/2015/04/21/extensive-repair-work-planned-for-sea-to-sky-retaining-wall-one-yea… […]


  7. Laila, I’m glad that the retaining walls were reported before possible damage could occur. It seems like whoever constructed these walls should have used an engineering consulting firm. Those drilled anchors look like they’re pretty solid, but it does seem a bit odd to have them in place after 5 years of construction.


    1. Thanks Jake. Yes it was sloppy construction imo – And keep in mind the other walls in all the photos posted in those links have not been touched. Every winter I cringe at what might be going on behind those walls with the freeze thaw cycle and water seepage.

      Unrealistic construction deadlines driven by the provinces need for photos ops and the claim of ” On Time, On budget” are a part of that, combined with the lucrative completion bonuses.


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