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Massive sinkhole repair project hailed by Richmond leaders

on May 7, 2012

The golden shovels were out, but this wasn’t a “groundbreaking” ceremony. It was a ground “filling” one.

City leaders and state and county officials were joined by more than 100 people Friday to mark the start of the final phase of a project to repair a massive sinkhole that swallowed cars and blocked access to a residential community more than two years ago near Via Verdi Road off I-80.

The Via Verdi repair project began April 15, 2010, when heavy rains triggered the collapse of a massive metal corrugated storm drain pipe that channeled the water of San Pablo Creek, opening a 30-foot deep sinkhole that swallowed at least two cars and rendered Via Verdi Road impassable.

In the aftermath of the sinkhole, city engineers worked with the City of Richmond Public Works Department and two contractors to excavate the collapsed pipe, stabilize the hole and build a bypass road to enable residents of 85 homes and 100 apartment units off Via Verdi Road to return to their homes. The Contra Costa Transportation Authority and California Emergency Management Agency ultimately facilitated state funding for the emergency project.

The final phase of construction begins now, engineers said, and will include a massive new storm drain pipe.

On Friday, leaders stood near the sinkhole – now fortified with retaining walls – and praised the multiagency emergency response and subsequent construction.

“This was a profound emergency,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, “and this project is an example of us all coming together.”

The total cost of the emergency response and subsequent construction will be about $12 million, according to Tawfic Halaby, Richmond’s associate civil engineer and project manager. The state’s emergency management agency will reimburse the city about 75 percent of the costs.

“The subdivisions were built in the 1970s, and the pipe to convey the creek under an access roadway,” Halaby said. “In today’s world, we would never accept that. Creeks don’t go in pipes, and we don’t permit one way in and out.”

The response and construction was named “Emergency Project of the Year” for Northern California for 2010, said Frank Kennedy, vice president of the American Public Works Association Northern California chapter.

Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, praised the state’s emergency management agency for recognizing the local emergency declaration. “It was the fastest decision in a long time I have seen out of state government,” Iwasaki said.

The new storm pipe will be 400 feet long, 22 feet wide and 15 feet tall and composed of reinforced concrete, Halaby said.

“We hope to be done by the end of the year,” Halaby said.

Another version of this report was first published by the West County Times.

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