5 On Your Side

Engineering report in on sinking driveway

Posted October 8, 2008 5:20 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2008 6:27 p.m. EDT

— Tyjuanna LaBennett contacted 5 on Your Side several months ago about her sinking driveway.

Construction crews trying to repair her driveway found railroad ties buried underneath. A foundation repair contractor, hired by LaBennett, said he saw two main problems: the criss-cross ties also serve as a support for the front of the garage, and it appears other support walls underneath the home are not properly reinforced.

Five on Your Side got the homebuilder, Pulte Homes, and the Town of Cary to look into the issue. Each now has engineering reports on the issue.

In July, WRAL spoke to a Pulte spokesman who said the railroad ties were "intentional" and, 20 years ago, when the house was built, were a "fairly common and acceptable practice."

Cary hired an independent engineering firm to assess the problem. In part, its report says the wall is "severely decayed" and notes the cause is a combination of "improper use of materials and inadequate site drainage."

The engineer went on to say the problems were "easily foreseeable by a construction professional.” The report also said the retaining wall "failed and should be replaced with permanent construction.”

The Town of Cary sent the report to Pulte and requested the company help LaBennett, but company officials refused.

Pulte received its own engineering report, but would not provide it to WRAL, saying it showed “nothing conclusive.”

Pulte Vice President Chris Martin would also not answer any of WRAL’s questions, but released a statement saying the wall "performed as intended,” but because of the wall’s age, it is "in need of maintenance."

LaBennett wonders how she was supposed to "maintain" railroad ties hidden beneath her driveway.

“I am outraged by their response,” LaBennett said. “That is just unacceptable.”

LaBennett says she’s not finished fighting.

“If they think that I’m just gonna curl up, crawl underneath that house and shrivel up, they got another thought coming. They better get up early because it’s not over. And I won’t get fat and I won’t sing.”

Questions remain about whether timber walls are allowed under the building code. The engineer the town hired said "no," but the Town of Cary said the code in place when LaBennett's house was built did allow them. However, that code does not specifically address a wall built the way LaBennett's is built.

On Wednesday, the town asked the engineer to review that code and submit a new report. Either way, a town spokeswoman says it's not the best practice and would not be allowed under today's building code.