Engineering Inc. - July/August 2008 - (Page 5)

MARkET WATCH Bridge Safety Concerns Could Lead to Inspection Opportunities By Joe Salimando A bridge collapsed in Minnesota last August, and 13 people died. Nearly a year later, the question has to be asked: Can any good come of this? Perhaps. The resulting national attention on the need for adequate bridge inspection and repair as well as new and safer bridges and on how we pay for bridge and highway construction and upkeep might be a good thing. It’s almost certain to create new business opportunities for engineering firms that specialize in bridge inspections and new bridge design. What we need, ideally, is meaningful action as a result of this increased focus. For economic reasons and for safety’s sake, our nation needs safe, properly maintained bridges. Garnering Attention A slew of media attention and congressional hearings immediately followed the August 2007 disaster. In late 2007, a report titled Transportation for Tomorrow, by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, marked an important development. The 260-page report cited a critical need for a major boost in transportation funding: “The U.S. now has incredible economic potential and significant transportation needs. We need to invest at least $225 billion annually from all sources for the next 50 years to upgrade our existing system to a state of good repair and create a more advanced surface transportation system to sustain and ensure strong economic growth for our families. We are spending less than 40 percent of this amount today.” But is there any guarantee the American public—and, even more important, Congress— will take the report’s recommendations to heart? An in-depth report in early 2008 provided additional fodder for reform. It pointed out that: n Although a 1971 law mandates bridge inspections every 24 months, at least 17,203 of the nation’s 592,000 vehicular bridges went more than two years between safety inspections. What’s more, the report said, 1,411 of those bridges were on interstates. A recent scan of newspapers lends even more impetus to the need for increased investment. n In Pennsylvania, “bridge inspection reports rate 112 of Potter County’s 251 bridges as structurally deficient, with 39 of those bridges scoring a 49 or lower on a sufficiency rating from 0 to 100.”—The Wellsboro (Pa.) Gazette n Randy Leonard of the Kansas Department of Transportation had this to say: “We might not be getting a Cadillac [bridge] inspection…We are probably getting a Chevy inspection sometimes. There is room for improvement.” —Topeka Capital-Journal Possible Solutions Current bridge inspection techniques, including the decadesold National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) for visual inspection of bridges, also have come under fire. Peter J. Vanderzee of LifeSpan Technologies, a Georgia-based structural monitoring company, told Go Bridges magazine recently, “The NBIS visual condition assessment protocol is considered, by some knowledgeable persons, as an impediment to resolving our national bridge problem, especially for bridges classified as structurally deficient or those with known defects.” Rep. James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is working hard to keep bridge safety and transportation funding top-of-mind, going as far as to request that the National Transportation Safety Board hold public hearings on the I-35W bridge collapse. “Under the current budget process, even capital investments that would result in future cost savings to the federal government itself are difficult to fund,” Oberstar said in a joint hearing with the House Budget Committee. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters proposed the idea of “direct pricing of road use” to raise revenue in lieu of elevated federal gas taxes. This pay-per-use concept parallels how most people pay for their use of utilities, and, according to Peters, “holds far more promise in addressing congestion and generating sustainable revenues for reinvestment” compared with traditional gas taxes. “Technology plays a role in direct pricing, via the use of new technologies that have eliminated the need for toll booths, and so the concept of road pricing is spreading rapidly around the world,” explains Peters. She also advocates the use of public/private partnerships to “advance the public interest by responding directly to the transportation challenges we currently face.” It all leads back to two important questions: Have we learned enough to turn our rhetoric into action, or will the call for more frequent bridge inspections and more infrastructure funding require yet another tragedy? Joe Salimando writes frequently on the construction industry at He can be reached at ecdotcom@gmail. com. ENGINEERING INC. DON eMMeRt/aFP/Getty iMaGes JULY / AUGUST 2008 5

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Engineering Inc. - July/August 2008

Engineering Inc. - July/August 2008
2009 EEA Call for Entries
Table of Contents
From ACEC to You
News & Notes
Market Watch
Legislative Action
Congressman Kendrick Meek
Going Global
2008 Professional Liability Insurance Survey
Institute for Business Management 2008 Fall Course Catalog
Bridging the Gap
2008 Convention Wrap Up
2008-2009 Executive Committee
2008 Fall Conference Primer
Business Insights
Members in the News
One on One

Engineering Inc. - July/August 2008