New Dallas Road railing won't withstand storms, says retired architect

A retired Victoria architect is worried that the aluminum-and-cable railings that will replace the pale blue concrete balustrade along Dallas Road won’t be strong enough to withstand harsh winter storms. The City of Victoria says the new railing is designed to prevent pedestrians from falling rather than dealing with extreme weather.

Work is underway to remove the aging concrete railing that runs along Dallas between Ogden Point and Lewis Street. It will be replaced with an aluminum-and-cable design similar to fencing along the Ogden Point breakwater. The $3.85-million project is expected to be concluded by the fall.

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Doug Lee, who spent 34 years as an architect in Vancouver and Victoria, fears the lightweight design will be no match for angry seas that can toss logs like matchsticks.

“Anyone who has been down there during winter storms knows you can get high waves and high waves with logs that can come crashing onto Dallas Road,” said Lee, an Oak Bay resident who previously supervised design and construction teams for major public-sector projects, including the redevelopment of Robson Square during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. He was also the project manager for the running-track installation and temporary stadium seating during the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

“I’m concerned a railing that’s too lightly built is going to get wiped out by a good-size log and a wave,” he said. “That’s why the barrier now is really heavy-duty. It was built that way for a reason.” A better replacement, Lee said, would have been a similar, but more modern design with epoxy-coated rebar and specialized concrete to prevent rust.

“I think whoever designed it didn’t consider all the risks,” said Lee, adding that any damage would cost taxpayers more money.

Public-works staff typically barricade off the sidewalk on the south side of Dallas Road during heavy storms.

Constructed in 1957, the 500-metre-long concrete barrier is crumbling and rusted. However, many Victorians have a fondness for the barrier, which for decades has been the backdrop of many photos along the waterfront.

Last year, council agreed to replace the balustrade in conjunction with the installation of new sidewalks, bike paths and sewers as part of the Capital Regional District’s wastewater treatment project.

Philip Bellefontaine, acting director of engineering works, said in a statement that the current balustrade is beyond the end of its useful service life due to deteriorating concrete and corroded structural steel. The barrier needed to be replaced, since it had deteriorated so much that areas were being mechanically supported with steel strapping to maintain guard-rail safety, Bellefontaine said.

The city’s engineering design process ensures railing designs are safe and can withstand waterfront environmental conditions, Bellefontaine said. He said the design and structural engineering is similar to that for the railing along the Ogden Point breakwater.

The seawall structure that supports the railing underwent extensive repairs, remediation and refacing, he said. The new railing is “structurally integrated and anchored into the concrete sidewalk to increase strength.”

Bellefontaine said the railing is designed primarily to prevent pedestrians from falling and provide some protection from debris. Because it’s not designed to deal with extreme storms, the sidewalk and roadway in the area would be closed as a precaution during strong storm conditions, he said.

The balustrade is believed to have been originally designed to withstand impact from a moving vehicle, particularly since the original pathway did not have a curb between the road and sidewalk, according to a February staff report by Fraser Work, the city’s former director of engineering and public works.

Work said that at the beginning of the design process, staff looked at several recently installed aluminum-and-cable railings, including those on the Johnson Street Bridge, Westsong walkway, Reesen Park, Tillicum Bridge and the Ogden Point breakwater.

“Staff in engineering and public works and sustainable planning and community development departments considered that a railing along Dallas Road that is consistent with the designs at Ogden Point and along other city waterfront locations would be most appropriate for this location,” he wrote.

The new streetscape along Dallas Road will include separated vehicle and bike lanes, angled parking and bollards between parking stalls and the railing. The railing’s flush-mount footings will be integrated into the sidewalk and add 0.3 metres of sidewalk space.

The $3.85-million cost includes $600,000 to remove and dispose of the old railing, $1 million to install the new one, $1.2 million for pavement, sidewalks, bollards and a two-way cycle track, administration costs and contingencies.

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