Political and financial agendas vs human life is an issue that will never be fully resolved. When it comes to bridge inspections and infrastructure that cost is too great to bear. If infrastructures fail, goods don’t make it to market or port, traffic stops, economies decline and lives are endangered and yet bridge inspections as well as many infrastructure inspections remain manual and subjective.
In an age when your Iphone is more powerful than the computers that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon we are still dragging a chain across a bridge deck to listen for changes in sounds to assess the safety of a bridge deck.
The finger pointing and blame to go around after the Genoa bridge collapse does not solve the current or ongoing problems for worldwide infrastructure.
It is time for everyone to step up from government officials to policy makers, asset managers and Egineering firms. The technology exists today to inspect our infrastructure and provide the quantitative data required to maintain it.
Companies and asset owners should be more concerned with a structure collapsing on their watch than just conducting business as usual. The hard part to fathom is that those that are tasked with receiving the best information possible at the taxpayers expense continue with the same inspection methods and methodologies that have been in place for the past 50 years. Why when the adoption of technology will actually increase companies bottom line, save taxpayer dollars and keep our infrastructure safe is it so difficult for technology to be adopted as the norm for transportation infrastructure? If done correctly, the adoption of technology will help all involved. The asset management companies and engineering companies will be more efficient and profitable and the asset owners will receive the quantitative data that can help save lives.
In my business, I live this every day but the reason I love this business is that we have an opportunity to do good. There is no downside to a job where we provide a service that can safely help extend the service life of critical infrastructure assets, help locate issues on structures long before they become a problem, locate issues on severely deteriorated assets before they become a danger to a structure, conduct inspections at a lower cost, with fewer lane closures and bucket trucks or obstructions on our roads and bridges. The data from this technology can help the asset owners better allocate their stretched budgets and make repair decisions in a timely manner. What’s there not to love? Business as usual.
Our company is not large enough to lobby for changes in the law or wait for the powers that be to change them. We are not influential enough to explain to anyone that has the power to move the needle. However, when there is an issue that cannot be resolved any other way, when bridge tendons are bad but owners are not sure how bad, when cables and tendons have deterioration but how much and how severe is unknown, we get the call.
In some cases, where there is a young engineer coming into a position of influence or a savvy supervisor looking to receive more quantitative data or lower their expenses, we are being thrown to the forefront. There have been many situations, either to replace “wedging” in suspension bridges or to provide bridge deck assessments across hundreds of bridges in order to create an action plan for repairs. But this industry doesn’t have an easy process to move itself forward. The rules and regulations favor the handful of companies that have been conducting these inspections and managing these assets for the past 50 plus years.
The guidelines that are in place for these inspections are outlined by two government agencies, AASHTO and FHWA guidelines and inspection utilizing technology far exceed thesir guidelines. States also adopt their own additional requirements that for the most part still do not come close to what is needed for quantitative inspections.
We will continue to forge forward with our efforts to educate government officials, engineering firms and asset owners that this technology exists, is being used on major assets worldwide, is safer, more affordable and provides better information to asset owners.
Some in my office and in our marketing department are concerned that it appears that I am putting out this post too close to the Genoa tragedy to provide awareness of our company and technology. I reply that the history of public safety, regulations and government involvement in the private sector is born from tragedy. The only opportunity to prompt change comes at the risk of the higher ups losing their base. This only happens in this industry in the wake of not responding to a tragedy with a definitive plan to improve things going forward. After the I35 bridge collapse inspection protocols in the US changed, just not enough.
In any event placing blame like what I hear in Genoa, after the FIU bridge collapse and after every catastrophe can be mitigated by conducting inspections that provide the needed data to make proper repairs in a timely manner. Doing everything you can to prevent these disasters, especially when there is no downside would be a good start.
Modern technology and robotics will not only help keep our infrastructure safe, keep our goods moving to market and economy thriving, but will be less expensive for the taxpayer, provide larger profit margins for their companies and yes, save lives.