James L. Wilton, former chairman and president of San Francisco engineering firm Jacobs Associates and an expert in excavation design of deep cut-and-cover structures, died on March 16 in Woodside, Calif., of lung cancer. He was 83. Wilton, who joined the firm in 1957, was named president in 1974 and chairman in 1985. He served in those posts until his 1992 retirement.
Wilton worked on numerous large global projects, including rapid transit systems in San Francisco, New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., Venezuela’s Yacambu irrigation tunnel, the Arenal power tunnel in Costa Rica and the Victoria Arts Center foundation in Melbourne, Australia, says the company. Excavation support systems incorporating his designs were used on more than half of the stations in the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in California as well as on an 8,000-ft-long open trench for San Francisco’s West Side sewage transport system. Other projects his excavation designs supported include the world’s largest aggregate processing plant, for Mangla Dam in Pakistan, and similar plants for several large U.S. dams. “Jim was extremely detail-oriented and was known for his meticulous construction drawings and calculations,” says Bill Edgerton, current president of Jacobs, which reported nearly $35.7 million in 2009 revenue and has more than 150 employees. Wilton was a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and received the Golden Beaver award for engineering in 1987 from the Beavers, a West Coast heavy construction professional group. He also authored the cut-and-cover chapter of the “Tunnel Engineering Handbook,” second edition.