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July 1, 2013 / Brandon

Hillside Grading at Mount Washington, Los Angeles

Hillside Grading at Mount Washington, Los Angeles

The last few months have been busy for us at B+W Engineering and Design. A lot of civil engineering jobs that were on hold over the last year or so are now starting up. The more interesting part about that, is none of the stalling on these projects were related to the economy. Onto a fun Hillside Grading project at Mount Washington.

When I say fun Hillside Grading, I should emphasize that fun to me on a project means difficult. Hillside Grading is one of the most difficult Civil Engineering specialties. I am pretty sure designing a skyscraper or Formula 1 car rank as the most difficult specialties, and traffic timing coming in a close 2nd. But for a grader there are 2 scenarios that pose a challenge, either a flat lot or a hillside lot. A flat lot is difficult because drainage is hard to achieve. On a hillside lot everything is tied so closely together while trying to achieve the largest building pad and minimizing retaining wall heights when necessary.

So we come to a project in Mount Washington. This plot of land has been through previous engineers that for one reason or another designed the project wrong and went out of business. Eventually this caught up to the City and the owner faced a problem. A soils report stated that in order to build on this lot a 1:1 slope would need to take place along the frontage of the property. This was never designed into the original grading plans and really caught the owner by surprise. Not only is it expensive to build on a hillside because of the foundation, but adding in some major grading isn’t exactly a cheap addition to the project’s scope. B+W Engineering along with the soils engineer and owner came up with a few different ideas on how to handle the new problem. Myself and liking to throw anything out there came up with anything that I could think of. Retaining walls, soil nail walls, different ideas how to grade, etc. The owner even thought about trying to do a partial land swap to put the problem area onto the next door neighbor. None of these were a go. Though I have to say that land swap idea was pure genius.

After a lot of hesitation on how to approach this the owner gave us the go ahead to come up with a partial grading plan to fix the problem as they figure out what to do in the meantime for the building. So now its time to grade. I like to do the drafting myself. I know some clients are surprised to hear that. But I have been able to design and draft all at once for many years now. What this means is that I like to look at a topography for a while, overlay everything and turn all layers into the colors I like to see. Once I have everything put together my mind goes into a visual mode that is hard to explain. Just about everyone who looks at my computer screen while I do this thinks I am nuts. The screen really does look like a big mess of gibberish. But my brain has become accustomed to seeing what needs to be seen.

So what’s next you might ask? I start putting in contours matching into where we need to tie in with the slope that must be used. I grade and grade and grade and eventually a grading plan appears. Depending on how long this takes, I sometimes think that felt like magic. I check over everything to make sure the correct contours daylight properly and the basic design is done. I make this sound easy, but its not. I originally came up with a larger grading area. But I was curious if I could pull the limits back. Slowly but surely I was able to pull a lot of the contours back. The good thing about going backwards is that when this gets cut out in real life the contractor may grade to where I originally had everything as it makes more sense when on the job site. But for purposes of submitting plans we will use the tighter design. Also the tighter design has less earth movement which will help save money upfront during the plan check process. Yes we still do think ahead with what we are doing for our clients.

There is nothing like seeing a clean designed slope on a Hillside Grading plan. That is my favorite thing to look at. And when done properly no one is going to question what we are doing. That is generally why we get our Civil Engineering projects approved on the first go around. So now we have a preliminary grading plan to show the client to make sure they are okay with the design and the real fun begins with how to protect the new slope from rain water.

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