Virginia Bridges Need Billions in Repairs!!!!!!

Here’s the lede and headline in Peter Bacque’s story in the Times-Dispatch about bridges in Virginia with structural problems: It will cost $3.5 billion to replace them all, just a half billion dollars shy of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s annual budget.

Sounds like a crisis! Ready to panic yet?

Here’s the less alarming news that appears in the body of the story: First of all, bridges that are “structurally deficient” are not necessarily “unsafe.” Second, the proportion of problem bridges in the state has been slowly, but steadily, getting smaller during the past 12 years, and is below the national average. This year, VDOT will spend about $150 million to maintain and repair the state’s bridges.

Bottom line: For $150 million a year, or about 1/3 of one percent of VDOT’s budget, we’re slowly working our way through the backlog of bridge repairs. There is no cause for alarm.

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    This is an example of my advocacy to utilize available technology to do improve government.


    “Recent advancements in sensor technology provide the opportunity to collect detailed, real-time data on bridge performance. But this technology is being used on less than a handful of bridges nationwide.

    Current inspection methods, unfortunately, cannot be relied on to catch a bridge on the brink of collapse.

    “We do not know which bridges should be taken out of the system, and which should be maintained,” said A. Emin Aktan, a professor of civil engineering at Drexel University and director of the Intelligent Infrastructure and Transportation Safety Institute.

    Every two years, each government-owned bridge is required to receive a “routine” inspection, in which technicians or engineers observe the bridge and take measurements of its physical condition. Underwater structures, meanwhile, must be inspected by divers every five years. There are guidelines but no requirements for “in-depth” inspections, which can include things like probing of the bridge, laboratory analysis of bridge material, and testing of surrounding environmental and water conditions.

    This heavy reliance on visual inspection is inadequate for three major reasons. First, inspections are susceptible to human error. Indeed, a 2001 study by the Federal Highway Administration found that inspectors regularly missed problems and inconsistently rated bridge conditions. Second, there are long intervals between required inspections, during which time serious problems may emerge. And third, inspections may be superficial and might not produce the detail necessary to spot deficiencies.

    This is not to say that visual inspection is unimportant—visual inspection is crucial to assess bridge conditions, in particular cracks and corrosion. But more is needed to assure the safety of the nation’s bridges.

    That’s where sensor technology comes in. Instead of relying on sporadic and error-prone observations, matchbox-sized wireless sensors can be attached or embedded on bridges to take precise, continuous measurements of virtually anything relevant to a bridge’s condition, including strain, tilt, vibrations, temperature, and seismic activity. This sort of data is particularly important as the nation’s bridge population ages—the mean bridge age is now 40 years old—and traffic and truck loads continue to increase, causing more rapid deterioration.

    The Minneapolis collapse has created a political opportunity to modernize bridge monitoring. In its aftermath, Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters initiated an ongoing review of the agency’s bridge inspection program to, in her words, “make sure that everything is being done to keep this kind of tragedy from occurring again.”

    VDOT could make a case to the public and the GA – to obtain funding to do this.. and put two issues to bed:

    1. – address the backlog cost issue by using technology to identify bridges that need closer observation

    2. – demonstrate to the public that they they actually know how to deal with the issue on a cost-effective and “smart” basis.

    now .. our Republican friends.. you know the guys who are always yammering about taxes and big wasteful government…

    if they REALLY wanted to demonstrate that they actually do “get it”..they could make a statement but putting a bill in the GA.. that MADNATES that VDOT actually do just this….

    and if nothing else.. get a spotlight on the issue of why Government seems content at times to just sit..even when there are real answers … ready to be used… but government being what government is.. their response is … yawn… yeah.. we might get around to that one of these days.. when they give us more funding…

    … of course it would be downright ugly to point out that they may actually be able to SAVE funding.. by utilizing this technology..

  2. Accurate Avatar

    Maybe you folks can do what we did in the state of Oregon. Approximately four years ago, they cried, “Our bridges are falling, our bridges are falling … well, not exactly but they ARE in really bad shape.” So they convinced the public to increase the vehicle registration fee – ‘to pay for the bridges’. Amazingly enough after the fee increase was enacted they decided that the bridges weren’t really as bad as they thought; so they kindly found other ways to waste … er, spend the money – hint, the extra money wasn’t/isn’t spent on roads.

    Problem – we actually have some really nasty bridges here. Heck there is one old bridge that they have stopped allowing trucks and buses over. But, they don’t seem to have the money to fix it.

    Will Virgina be as wise>

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    the thing about bridges is that they are similar to living things.

    they move..

    they vibrate.. corrode..

    essentially they age… and the don’t age at the same rate because they are different in many different ways and they operate in many different ways.. also that can affect them.

    What we do now is going out to access them.. visually.. to “see” if we can find things that have aged.. but even then.. we don’t know what they means … in terms of risk…

    when you “instrument” a bridge with strain gages and other monitoring that records how a bridge “moves” – you develop a “signature” that essentially describes it’s normal movements.. sort of like a medical history for us humans.

    Then if you continue to sample/monitor those known almost instantly that their movements have changed.. in some way.. and that needs further investigation by experienced bridge inspectors.

    If you “instrument” all of your bridges.. what you get.. in your reporting is a “short list” of bridges that need the further attention of inspectors.

    This not only saves on the costs of inspectors that cost a whole lot more than monitors (that also don’t need “benefits”) but more importantly – you know which bridges need attention .. rather than have 20% of them listed as “deficient but ‘ok’” (whatever that means).

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