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Ministry of Works: Damaged culvert in St. Matthews was caused by intense rains

Posted: Friday, June 26, 2020. 9:09 am CST.

By BBN Staff: The Ministry of Works issued a statement today regarding the collapse of the culvert at St. Matthews Village on the George Price Highway.

“The culverts that were damaged were not recently replaced as was erroneously reported in the media, but have been in place for well over 40 years. Contrary to what was also reported, that section of road (Belize City to Belmopan) was not rehabilitated within the last 12 years,” the ministry noted.

The Road Safety Project along that portion of the highway dubbed the “demonstration corridor” sought to address the many accidents resulting in the loss of lives.

It entailed the widening of road shoulders, placement of road signs, safety barriers, bus lay-bys, road markings and resurfacing of a slippery portion of the road. Ambulances and patrol vehicles were also provided under this project.

The Ministry also said that the works contracts were signed with four local contractors, none of which was Imer Hernandez.

The intense rains countrywide, exacerbated by the negative impacts of deforestation, contributed to the failure of the crossing known as St. Matthew’s Bridge.

It is anticipated that the rains represented a more than 1:50 return period, surpassing the 1:20 return period for which these structures were designed and built in the 1970’s.

More than five times the daily June average of rainfall fell in approximately two and a half hours.

At the design and construction stage the following were observed:

  •     allowable headwater
  •     type of flow control (inlet control versus outlet control)
  •     permissible barrel and outlet velocities
  •     location and orientation of the barrel(s)
  •     use of improved inlets
  •     potential for siltation and abrasion of the culvert barrel
  •     inlet and outlet protection for scour control
  •     debris control
  •     any necessary fish passage criteria

Regardless, the volume of water released by the rains overwhelmed the installed culverts.

The Ministry informed that the failure of the culvert at mile 38 can be attributed to scour at the base of the culvert’s outlet.  This was compounded by water filtration of the soil encasing the metal culvert sections at the upper side of the inlet.

Elevated water level not normally experienced reached within the free board leading to compromise as the water softened the material around the corrugated pipes. As the base of the metal pipes sank, it allowed for fast flowing water to complete the devastation.

The first telltale sign, as seen in videos of the incident, was the swelling of the chip and seal surface dress layer.

This was evidence of the ongoing failure of the culvert. At this point, with the continued rains and the sustained elevated water levels around the inlet, it was impossible to save the already damaged culvert that, by this time, was sinking into the cavity formed on its underside.

The engineering staff present at the site along with some members of the public were only able to watch helplessly as this entire escapade unfolded.

Fortunately, the road was reopened around 10:30 p.m. of that same day and remains open to allow for the free passage of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.


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