When I interviewed the president of Infrastructure Preservation Corporation, Doug Thaler as to why technology like this has not been adopted for bridge inspection globally, his response was, “With the condition of infrastructures worldwide, it is only a matter of time.”
Thaler explained that modern technology and robotics provide more quantitative data for less money and exceed requirements of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the two agencies that set the standards for these inspections. He said, “Typically, and unfortunately change only takes place after a catastrophe. After the I-35 collapse of 2007 in the US, new regulations were released. You will see the same in Italy after the recent collapse.”
In the I-35 disaster, the design anomaly ensured an accident waiting to happen, since the bridge opened for business. Yet, inspectors were taken completely unawares because seeking out design errors is not standard practice for bridge inspections. Had technology been used instead, quantitative data may have indicated an abnormality before disaster struck, for what should have been the strongest part of the bridge, was in fact, one of its weakest.
With inspections done the same way for over 50 years by a handful of companies, it appears more than time to let fresh air in. Says Thaler, “The asset owners themselves need to be at the forefront of legislating the changes. Also, local heads of USDOT districts have the authority to pull any work away from current asset managers in the interests of the public. Those who don’t want a catastrophe striking on their watch, will start exerting their authority before it’s too late.”
Unfortunately, infrastructures worldwide have aged and deteriorated to a point where business as usual will put lives at risk.
The bridge inspection industry seriously needs to welcome the advantages of technology before another bridge collapses somewhere.
American writer Adora Svitak very fittingly said, “To ignore technology is to become obsolete.”