Could take weeks to begin repairing ‘unprecedented’ damage to B.C.’s road system, experts say

Repairing the British Columbia highways washed out by heavy rains and flooding can be sophisticated by the size of the damage, the terrain and the approaching winter, constructing experts say.

“It’s unprecedented, the size and scope and the number of sites,” said Joe Wrobel, the president of JPW Road and Bridge, a road-building company based in the north Okanagan area of B.C.

Despite the extent of the damage, Wrobel, whose company is not directly involved in the repairs related to the flooding, said there are processes in place for emergency repairs, adding that the B.C. government has already drawn up lists of available contractors and equipment.

Before work can begin, geotechnical assessments will have to be conducted, Wrobel said in an interview Wednesday. Protecting lives will be the first priority, followed by protecting infrastructure and restoring safe travel, he added.

Every major route between the Lower Mainland and the Interior has been cut by washouts, flooding or landslides following record-breaking rainfall across southern B.C. between Saturday and Monday.

WATCH | Aerial footage of landslide damage on B.C.’s highways: 

Landslides devastate southern B.C. highways

Aerial video shows the damage recent landslides have caused to major B.C. roads, including Highways 1, 3, 5 and 99. 0:55

How long repairs will take will depend on the damage, said Ahmad Rteil, a professor of structural engineering at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.

In places where whole sections of road have been washed away, just assessing the damage and the stability of the soil could take more than two weeks, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“You have to reassess the entire scenario there by way of the soil, stabilize the soil, after which as soon as you work that one out, you begin constructing the brand new road, the brand new bridge,” Rteil stated.

Winter and freezing climate will make repairs tougher, he added.

“As the temperature now starts to go below zero and starts to freeze, then it becomes very challenging to work with that upper layer of soil,” he said, adding that it will also make bringing heavy equipment over mountain passes more difficult.

Flooding took out large portions of Highway 8 west of Merritt, B.C. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

Brenda McCabe, the president of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering and a civil engineering professor emerita at the University of Toronto, said officials must first ensure repairs can be done safely.

“We have to make it possible for the slopes which are left are steady, that crews can get into there in a secure means,” she stated in an interview Wednesday.

In areas the place roads have been washed away, engineers and officers may have to resolve whether or not to rebuild the broken infrastructure or use new designs — choices that may doubtless be made on a case-by-case foundation, McCabe stated.

Damage to the Malahat Highway on Vancouver Island. (B.C. Ministry of Transportation)

“Our parameters for design are evolving with our better understanding of the way that the climate is changing and the impacts that that will have on weather events,” she said.

Rteil said he worries events like this will become more common in the future.

He said the wildfires and high heat in B.C. earlier this summer killed trees and added to the risk of washouts.

“When the vegetation on that slope is gone, then the slope turns into unstable,” he stated.

Repairing roads the place particles has come down from above will doubtless be comparatively simple, whereas elsewhere, non permanent bridges and detours might have to be put in place whereas main work is completed, Wrobel stated.

Areas the place roads have been flooded and the water desk has risen will doubtless be essentially the most sophisticated, he added.

Wrobel, a former chairman of the Canadian Construction Association, stated that the variety of repairs required will add to the complexity, and he stated provincial officers may have to resolve which initiatives are given prime precedence.

He stated road builders from throughout the nation are prepared to do the work. Over his profession of greater than 40 years, he has seen initiatives the place the damage was as unhealthy as what particular person websites in B.C. are experiencing this week.

“But I’ve by no means seen all of them on the similar time,” he stated.

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