British Columbia

Engineers investigate overpass wall collapse

Engineers are taking a close look at a West Kelowna overpass after a retaining wall gave way early Sunday morning.

Detour causes heavy traffic delays on Highway 97 in West Kelowna, B.C.

Traffic northbound on Highway 97 lines up on the early morning commute into Kelowna, B.C. Ministry of Transportation spokesman Murray Tekano expects the Westside Road overpass will be closed for days while engineers examine what caused the collapse. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Engineers are taking a close look at a West Kelowna overpass today to examine why a retaining wall gave way Sunday morning.

The Ministry of Transportation says a member of the public reported the collapse just before 830 a.m. PT. The retaining wall along the southbound lanes of Highway 97 collapsed, spilling rocks and debris onto the roadway.

Engineers from the construction company, Ledcor Construction, are now trying to determine what caused the wall collapse, said Murray Tekano, district manager for the Ministry of Transportation.

"This wall is where we're focusing right now, and certainly the structure is not showing any signs of concern but we can't put traffic back in those lanes until we have that wall situation addressed."

The retaining wall collapsed, spilling debris onto the road. ((Brady Strachan/CBC))

He said the method used to construct and stabilize the retaining wall is used in overpasses across B.C.

"The wall system is used quite commonly. It's called mechanically stabilized earth, you'll see it quite a lot in our province," said Tekano.

"I haven't seen a failure like this collapse like this before, and certainly we're going to be looking very closely at that."

A detour is diverting southbound traffic around the overpass, and traffic is heavily congested at peak times. At times, cars were backed up for several kilometres and moving slowly. Some motorists reported spending over an hour in traffic crossing from West Kelowna to Kelowna.

Commuters are reminded to allow extra time to account for the delays. The Ministry of Transportation says it expects the overpass to be closed for several days.

The Westside Road Interchange opened to traffic on Oct. 29, 2011, after two years of construction. The $41.8 million projection was paid for largely by British Columbia government, with the federal Building Canada Fund contributing $11 million.

But Tekano says he doesn't believe the age of the overpass was a factor in the infrastructure failure.

"I don't think that's really a factor, and again we really don't know what's caused this, and that's part of the assessment."