A winter with lots of freezing and thawing could cause more movement of the escarpment walls that have proven unsteady in the past, city sources say.
“Over the winter there might be some additional movement, and then we'll have to react,” said Richard Andoga, the senior project manager for the city's Infrastructure Programming Engineering Services Division.
Hamilton has seen some freezing temperatures in December, coupled with a hefty dumping of snow. With weekend highs set to soar into double digits, a freeze/thaw situation alongside moisture in the escarpment's rock face could cause movement, Andgoda said.
“And that doesn't help us.”
The problem isn't unique to Hamilton — rock faces pose problems for roadways in many locales. Crews often end up being reactive rather than proactive when problems arise, Andgoda says.
“All we can do is react to the best of our abilities,” he said.
The latest problem with the escarpment came back in February, when retaining wall for the Claremont Access fell, sending debris cascading onto the road. The downbound lanes were closed for several days as city crews cleaned up the damage. No one was hurt.
“We determined the major contributing factor to the failure of the wall was the growth of trees along the top of the wall,” said Darrel Smith, manager of road operations.
Those trees were removed at the beginning of August to take some weight off the wall. The wall itself was not reinforced.
Back in November, Ward 7 Coun. Scott Duvall told CBC Hamilton the city was grappling with the best way to reinforce the wall - be it with steel girders, concrete or some kind of mesh. At the time, Duvall said he hoped city crews would have a plan established within a few days.
When asked about the problem on Jan. 8, Duvall's assistant Jackie Coffey said the Councilor is waiting on staff for further information, and it may “take a few days.”
Andgoda says the city is still “assessing the wall and looking at various options for what we can do out there.”
“The tie-back system we have with the rocks isn't ideal,” he said, adding that they're looking at the permanent closure of one of the downbound lanes on the Claremont Access.
He says they're looking to “naturalize the escarpment — that's more appealing than the old steel panels. We like the natural look over the steel wall.”
The city expects the stabilization of the wall to be a long-term process as crews can't close routes to the mountain all at once. Right now, they're look for various forms of technology to help.
“We're looking for the low-cost option,” Andgoda said.
Still commuters have little to worry about, according to Smith.
“Right at the moment it is stable and safe.”