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MTA: Tunnels Appear Short of Standards : Subway: Inspection report criticizes construction, supervision.

October 05, 1994|DAVID WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a sweeping condemnation of the construction and supervision of subway work from Hollywood to the Wilshire district, transit officials said Tuesday that "significant stretches" of the tunnels do not appear to meet contract specifications.

Inspection reports "strongly indicate" that the tunneling contractor failed to place high-strength concrete or grout in the joints of the outer tunnel shell along nearly 1 1/2 miles of Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, officials said.

In some locations, records show, the contractor used plywood sheeting, odd-sized blocks of wood or other materials instead of concrete to fill joints. Paper-sack material has been discovered in at least one area, one source told The Times.

The inspection firm hired by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority alleged Tuesday night that the contractor hid some of the problems. The contractor could not be reached.

County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman, chairman of the MTA, called the extent of the problems brought to his attention Tuesday "deeply shocking. . . . It is a miracle that no one was injured as a result of this nonconforming work."

The statements by Edelman and other MTA executives contrast with the remarks by agency officials during the past month. They have depicted the structural problems as an isolated incident confined to a nine-block area of Hollywood Boulevard that sank last month.

In an announcement Tuesday, MTA officials focused on problems with the expansion gaps, including the improper installation of the concrete filler surrounding wood wedges in these joints.

Engineers not affiliated with the MTA have criticized the decision by project engineers to allow the wedges, instead of stronger metal struts, to be used for bracing. The MTA last week hired a Chicago-area firm in part to review the decision.

The tunnels in question had been scheduled to open to train service in 1998. Excavation beneath Hollywood Boulevard has been halted since Aug. 18, when surface sinkages of up to nine inches emerged. On Aug. 20, the tunnel contractor evacuated workers, fearing collapse of the tunnel along the boulevard's north side. Investigations by federal officials remain ongoing.

Franklin E. White, the MTA's chief executive officer, said that in his opinion inspectors hired by the agency gave "little attention" to the placement of the wood bracing and accompanying concrete material.

"We must get to the bottom of this problem and fix it in order to restore public confidence in our subway construction project," White said.

Inspection reports obtained late Monday by The Times show that the tunneling contractor, Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, failed, in violation of original contract requirements, to adequately place high-strength concrete or grout in the expansion gaps. Instead, records show that crews at times left the 40-inch-long gaps filled partially by the 32-inch-long wooden wedges, along with plywood sheeting or other filler.

Representatives of Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, a joint venture controlled by the Walnut-based J.F. Shea Co., previously have declined to comment, citing a provision of their contract. The firm won the contract to build the 12 miles of twin tunnels two years ago with a bid of $165 million.

Records show that allegations of substandard work with the expansion gaps surfaced 13 months ago.

A Sept. 11, 1993, nonconformance report for tunneling along the west side of Hollywood Boulevard cited Shea-Kiewit-Kenny for improper filling of a number of the gaps.

"Several segment wedge gaps . . . were not dry-packed (with cement or grout material)," wrote a Parsons-Dillingham inspector. "They were covered with plywood and the plywood was plastered to appear as drypack, leaving voids behind the drypack."

A similar citation was filed in March. On Sept. 20--more than one month after excavation was halted because of the ground sinkages--the lead inspector for Parsons-Dillingham wrote a nonconformance report alleging that virtually all of the Hollywood Boulevard tunnel areas were built in violation of the contract specifications. The Times obtained the reports under the California Public Records Act.

According to additional information released by the MTA on Tuesday, tests of 200 random feet of the tunnels detail the substandard nature of the work: Just 5% of the inspected gap areas, between the concrete segments, were filled properly to a depth of eight inches. In 60% of the gaps, less than one inch of grout was placed.

White and Edelman criticized Parsons-Dillingham for waiting until Sept. 20 to file the more sweeping nonconformance report, instead of intervening during the months when the substandard work was still being performed.

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