Archive for Thursday, August 2, 2007

KDOT to motorists: State’s bridges are safe

The Interstate 70 bridges over the Kansas River, a "fracture critical" bridge, is scheduled to be replaced in 2008 because of deterioration in some of the steel elements. The bridges get inspected every year.

The Interstate 70 bridges over the Kansas River, a "fracture critical" bridge, is scheduled to be replaced in 2008 because of deterioration in some of the steel elements. The bridges get inspected every year.

August 2, 2007

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After Minnesota tragedy, thousands fear local bridges aren't safe

The collapse of a bridge in Minnesota leaves at least four dead, 79 wounded and thousands all over the country wondering about safety of the bridges in their own communities. Enlarge video

Video of bridge collapse quickly being analyzed by experts

Investigators say the actual video of the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge is the equivalent of finding an airplane's "black box." Enlarge video

It's all about trusting a set of eyes.

Inspectors for counties and the Kansas Department of Transportation crawl, climb and creep over bridges all across the state to ensure that problems don't develop that lead to catastrophic failures like Wednesday's deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

That means they're looking for the tiniest of details: a discoloring of paint that indicates a stress point; hairline cracks in steel or concrete; and, yes, even large concentrations of bird droppings, which are a corrosive.

Despite the low-tech methods, Kansas transportation leaders sought to assure motorists that the state's bridge system was safe.

"It is safe to travel across the bridges on the state highway system in Kansas," Deb Miller, secretary of KDOT, said Thursday. "If we thought there was any bridge on the state highway system that carried any risk of collapse, we would close that bridge immediately."

Kaw concerns

There are two very large, busy bridges in Lawrence that inspectors crawl around on more than others. Those are the Kansas Turnpike bridges that cross the Kansas River between the East Lawrence and West Lawrence interchanges.

Each is similar to the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota. Both sets of bridges are classified as "fracture critical." It is a scary-sounding engineering term that means that it takes only one significant piece of the bridge to fail for the entire bridge to collapse.

Danny Mahnke - the lead bridge inspector for HNTB Corp., which does the inspection for the Kansas Turnpike Authority - confirmed the bridges' design makes them fracture critical. But, he said, as a result, the bridges get inspected every year. The federal inspection standard for bridges is every two years.

Work to replace the Kaw bridges - there are technically two, one eastbound, one westbound - is scheduled to begin in 2008. Mahnke said the 51-year old bridges need to be replaced because "there's a lot of deterioration" in some of the steel elements.

Miller, who also is on the KTA, said the bridges are still safe to travel.

"We look at the data related to that bridge, and absolutely it is safe," Miller said.

Improvements in bridge design are expected to make the new bridges more stable and less susceptible to a sudden failure. The $140 million project - which is equal to the cost to build the entire turnpike in the 1950s - is expected to be completed in late summer 2011.

High-tech methods

In addition to the annual routine inspection, the two turnpike bridges receive a more detailed inspection of its truss system every two years, and the underwater portion of the bridge is inspected every five years.

All the checks are visual inspections. There are other higher-tech methods for inspecting bridges. Some bridge designs - not necessarily the turnpike bridges - lend themselves to ultrasound testing. That involves shooting sound waves into the bridge to detect cracks. There's also magnetic particle testing, which involves placing fine, magnetic dust on steel structures to help identify cracks that are difficult for the naked eye to see. But those tests are almost always the exception, not the rule, when it comes to Kansas bridge inspections.

Matt Bond, a former bridge designer for KDOT, said the state's inspection methods are in line with industry norms.

"I would say we have a really good bridge inspection program," said Bond, who is now the stormwater engineer for the city of Lawrence. "I would say that what happened (in Minnesota), most likely won't happen here. It is really, really uncommon to have something happen as sudden as this."

Others in Douglas County also were expressing optimism in the state of Kansas' bridges. Keith Browning, Douglas County director of public works, is responsible for inspecting 161 bridges that are on county and township roads. The county is mandated to follow the same inspection procedures that the state uses.

"I absolutely feel like we are in a good position to catch problems before they happen," Browning said. "But that said, things do happen. I'm sure the people in Minnesota were confident, too."

Comments

KsTwister 8 years ago

Don't you wonder when the expansion teeth bang your tires how many wrecks those cause with rain or snow? Why do they raise up? We avoid the West Kaw span for that reason. As with the previous post---infrastructure first no matter what. I hope above all else that they inspect first ...then paint.

Jamesaust 8 years ago

To think of how many times here I've been criticized because I opposed wasting money on goodies like over-budgeted libraries or community recreation centers or wasteful contract studies to second-guess private business judgment by pointing out that government wasn't meeting its boring old dull core duties like sewers, roads ... and bridges.

Too bad the last Congress didn't build its (or is it the taxpayers') 'bridge to nowhere' in Minnesota. I guess you can't cut taxes forever.

The_Voice_of_Reason 8 years ago

So I was listing to NPR tonight and they were reporting on the MN collapse and talking about how there are over 70,000 bridges in the US that need repairs and that it would cost over 200 Billion bucks to fix all of them.... what I find sad and rather disheartening about the MN tragedy is that if the "government" would of put less than half the money its wasting in the middle east into repairing the ageing infrastructure in this county stuff like this wouldn't happen.... Just my two cents.....

Sean Livingstone 8 years ago

If I'm not wrong, and MnDOT refuses to commit to this reason until an investigation was carried out: Anti-freeze pipes were installed on the bridge and I was once told that it might cause some problems. I don't dare to say anything at the moment but the anti-freeze might have contributed to something, but I cannot confirm. I think the investigation has to be conducted immediately, if not the river will flush away many evidences.

hujiko 8 years ago

2008-2011

that seems like an awefully long time, oh great.

jayhawks71 8 years ago

And the MnDOT wouldn't have said the same thing KDOT is saying the last time they inspected the bridge in Minneapolis? Simple probabilities (not inspections) say that it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY for something like this to happen anywhere. Hey, people win the lottery and get struck by lightning, right?

Sigmund 8 years ago

This reminds me of similar statements KDOT made EXACTLY one year ago about "Baldwin Junction" one of the most dangerous intersection in Kansas! Between 2002 and 2005, 36 accidents occurred at the intersection - 17 resulting in serious injury and numerous deaths. Eventually the carnage and pending election forced KDOT to put in a four-way stop, rumble strips, and lights. It might be informative to note that despite KDOT's ludicrous claims that the intersection was already safe, since the improvement to this intersection there has been one reported accident, with no serious injuries. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/aug...

So now comes KDOT's Ms Miller claiming 21% of 26,000 bridges in Kansas are considered either "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete" but nonetheless is safe! http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/aug...

Honestly, you have wonder what dictionary KDOT's found it's definitions of safe, because the phrase "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete" doesn't leap to my mind when I think of a safe bridge. I wonder how much carnage it will take this time for KDOT to do more than monitor and begin to actually fix our "safe" bridges??

Wilbur_Nether 8 years ago

jayhawks71 wrote: ..."the same thing KDOT is saying the last time they inspected the bridge in Minneapolis?"

I hadn't heard about this, and I have family in Minneapolis, KS who also hadn't heard anything about it. What is KDOT saying about one of their bridges? Where can they learn more about this?

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years ago

inspect them all let the public see you doing it or at least know you are doing it Ms. Miller and then people will feel better and safer. I know it cost money but some things are not about money. If the Fed. gov. says they should be inspected then just do it. heck just do it any way to be sure.

dano 8 years ago

This is a good piece of reporting. I appreciate the authors clearly did their homework to give readers a better perspective on the bridge inspection process locally. In reading the confident quotes from the inspectors, however, the old saying about hindsight kept going through my mind.

jayhawks71 8 years ago

Wilbur, I am not sure what you are asking, but to clarify my point... MnDOT has identified structurally deficient (but safe to keep open) bridges all over Minnesota. KDOT has identified structurally deficient (but safe to keep open) bridges all over Kansas. Point: A bridge that was deemed to be structurally deficient (but safe to keep open) collapsed in Minnesota. That is the extent to which the same thing was "said" in Minnesota that KDOT is saying.

Your probability of being injured while driving a motor vehicle over a bridge that collapses under you are infinitesimal compared to being injured by someone driving a car drunk or while chatting away (or texting) on a cell phone. This "sky is falling" is analogous to the fear that questions of the safety of things such as flying in an airplane. People are so ready to ignore base rate probabilities in the face of a well-covered, large scale (but statistically rare) event.

ASBESTOS 8 years ago

From the article which illustrates the problems with letting the bearucrats comment and cirtique their own inspection and surveillance programs:

"All the checks are visual inspections."

"Matt Bond, a former bridge designer for KDOT, said the state's inspection methods are in line with industry norms.

"I would say we have a really good bridge inspection program," said Bond, who is now the stormwater engineer for the city of Lawrence. "I would say that what happened (in Minnesota), most likely won't happen here. It is really, really uncommon to have something happen as sudden as this.""

What happened in Minnesota WAS also done within the "Industry Norms", and most ALL bridge inspections ARE visual. The reporter lets themselves get bambozzled with a few "tech terms" and circular talk. The KDOT statment is "we do what everybody else does", hence the problem. I would venture that Minnesota has a helluva lot more bridges than Kansas, more inspectors, and probably does a better job at inspecting bridges over waters than Kansas. Dallas OTOH, has something like 50,000 bridges in the DFW area, and most of those go over other roadways, and less of their bridges go over water. SO there are 2 different types of bridge design and worries that go WAY PAST what Kansas does. Kansas Civil Servants seem to be arrogant and think they that waht is done is Kansas it the "cutting edge". That is not the case in most cases. Most of Kansas processes of oversight and professionalism in the GOvernmental Services falls far behind other states.

The reporter needed to know more about the subject they were writing a story on. This is just plane BS from a Governmental Employee to deflect criticism.

Remember that the MinnDOT also followed the "industry Standards" that have not been updated in 40 or so years.

purplesage 8 years ago

Call me paranoid, but I have worried about bridges being unsafe since almost all of them fell into the river below during a flood in the Phoenix metro area. There was one mistake, just an additional 0 in the number of the cubic feet of water flow that left one open when the river flow was exceeding the bridge's capacity significantly. It fell early in the morning with no one on it. A smaller interstate bridge fell and those on it were never found. Even the massive structure on the main freeway shifted and had to be closed for about a year while being repaired.

They can say all they want but no one can absolutely guarantee that nothing like this will happen in KS or anywere else.

I wonder why these things can't be built with a longer life span? Anyone remember the Chouteau bridge in KC, built in the late 1800's and still in use until just a few years ago? Narrow and scary, but still in us.

irnmadn88 8 years ago

The phrase "Close enough for government work" keeps coming to mind...

ASBESTOS 8 years ago

"If we thought there was any bridge on the state highway system that carried any risk of collapse, we would close that bridge immediately."

The VERY SAME THING said about this bridge collapse in Minn. The MinnDOT had the same idea. Do you thn MinnDOT would leave it open if they thought there was a risk of collapse??? This is just plain dumb. Who do these governmental officials think they are? Do they fancy themselves "Sages"? If a bridge collapsed tomorrow in Kansas that would be tragic, but in light of the denials, and the public's growing distrust in all things that are "governmental employees" and their "Capability and professionalism" are seriously in question. Whe this is questioned, the civil servants put out a generalized statment like we get in this article.

REPORTERS YOU NEED TO DO A MUCH BETTER JOB.

This is standard responses from governmental employees who oversee this program. There are many Civil Engineering associatins and societies that are warming us about all of our coming infrastructure problems.

Our political leaders do all they can to mak hay on a Wal-Mart being build, but there is no talk about bridges, roads, sewer, and water (things the government should have as the TOP priority) instead it comes into a "fund the developer" program instead of services for the "public at large".

I think it is time to retune our plolitical process, AND REFORM THE GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES.

Wilbur_Nether 8 years ago

jayhawks71, thanks for clarifying. After reading your clarification, I get that you were saying that MnDOT's reaction to the Minneapolis bridge (pre-accident) would have been been what KDOT is saying regarding Kansas bridges. The way sentence is structured, it reads that KDOT--not MnDOT--is the agency talking about a Minneapolis bridge, so I incorrectly inferred you knew something about a bridge in Minneapolis, KS. My error, and my apologies.

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