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Major geo-tech project completed

Online since 5.03.2017 • Filed under Professions - Construction & Contractors • From Issue 20 page(s) 42-43
Major geo-tech project completed

The completion of an R80 million slope stabilisation engineering project in Nelson Mandela Bay has saved Africa’s automotive manufacturing capital from power black-outs, says the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL).


The instability of the R75 on-ramp into Uitenhage was undermining the structural integrity of pylons carrying overhead electrical cables supplying large areas of Uitenhage with power. It has been a source of concern for authorities and industry since 2012 when a part of the slope was washed away by heavy rains.


‘Sloughing or erosion problems began in the mid- 1980s due to the lack of maintenance. This, in turn, allowed moisture to seep into the slope. Previous methods of stabilisation were not effective as they only dealt with close-to-surface water or moisture contained within the slope,’ says Michelle Ah Shene, spokesperson for SANRAL.

The R75 was declared a national route in 2011 and was being investigated by SANRAL when the failure occurred. Each time that instability occurred the failure zone encroached on the power pylons, undermining the stability of the foundations.


Slope stabilisation programme

Later, extensive slope landmass movements were triggered by heavy rains during October 2012 in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro. The rains created a 50m-wide and 300- long slip along the R75 on-ramp, resulting in the movement of soil to the lower parts of the slope along the failure zone, further exacerbating the risk of damage to the cables and a potential power black-out of Uitenhage.


SANRAL told To Build that it completed a slope stabilisation programme of the R75 on-ramp and that stability of pylon foundations will no longer be at risk. The programme entailed the excavation of 112 000m³ of soil, the construction of 5 700m³ of gabions in three continuous walls along the R75 on-ramp, inclusive of grouted soil nails, construction drains at the top of the walls and the installation drains conveying storm water run-off down the slope to the existing drainage system.  The project also included the construction of an earth catch water bank at the summit of the slope to prevent overland flow from the summit flowing down the cut face.


Challenges overcome

SANRAL managed to overcome two engineering challenges on the project. The first challenge encountered was the excavated face beneath the southern pylon; if completely excavated to its full height it would have been approximately 10m high. ‘When it had been partly excavated to between 6 and7 metres, it was prudent to install a system of temporary grouted soil nails plus geotextile and steel mesh to prevent the slope from collapsing. Had the temporary measures not been installed there would have been a danger of the collapse endangering the lives of any person working below and could have, quite possibly, brought about the collapse of the electricity pylon standing at the top of the face,’ explains Ah Shene.


Secondly, during construction where the excavations opened the face of the cut slope, a geological fault in the material was exposed, with considerable amounts of groundwater seepage from the fault. The fault could have led to further sloughing of the existing cut face onto the R75 on-ramp. Additional stabilisation works in the form of gabions, soil nails, slope rehabilitation measures (top soiling and grassing) and trapezoidal drains were authorised.


Learning from pioneers

Geotechnical engineering is one of the fastest growing fields of engineering, albeit a relatively young one. Many pioneers within the field have carved a path for those that follow to help fill in the gaps in our knowledge about the fascinating world that lies beneath the earth’s surface.


Ah Shene explains that most engineering projects deal with near-surface challenges, and solutions are effectively engineered, whereas slope stabilisation projects deals with more unknown challenges.

The project created 216 employment opportunities for 13 SMME’s over a 15-month period. SMME training in tendering and pricing, safety, health and environment aspects, concrete skills and first aid were also provided.


South African National Roads Agency Limited

W www.nra.co.za

Issue 20

Issue 20

March 2017

This article was featured on page 42-43 of
To Build Magazine Issue 20.

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