In light of the Washington Bridge collapse the North Carolina Department of Transportation is sending a strong message to drivers about their bridges saying, "If it's open, it's safe".
This is in response to renewed concerns over the safety of bridges all across the state. The DOT says their 13,500 bridges are inspected every two years, however they cannot predict what could happen if a vehicle crashes into one.
"If an 18 wheeler hits any of our bridges at that speed, that's a collision we can't really plan for," said Terry Gibson, Chief Engineer for the NCDOT. "It could probably cause damage that may create something like that (Washington crash) to happen."
"Safety is always a top priority and every bridge that is open in North Carolina is safe for drivers," said Transportation Secretary Tony Tata. "We have comprehensive inspection, rehabilitation, and maintenance programs in place because our bridges play a vital role in connecting people to work, school and popular vacation destinations."
North Carolina spent more than $400 million in the last two years to fix bridges all over the state and says unpredictable factors such as crashes on these bridge, is something they're going to look into.
2,663 of the state's bridge are considered "structurally deficient," which means that although the bridge is safe, it needs repairs.
· Each bridge in North Carolina is inspected at least every two years in accordance with the National Bridge Inspection Standards.
· Any identified structural problem is addressed by contract repairs or by NCDOT bridge maintenance crews, which are located across the state.
· If a bridge is deemed unsafe, it would immediately be repaired or closed to traffic.
What inspectors look for in an inspection
Survey teams assess the condition of five elements on each bridge: railings, decks, expansion joints, superstructure and substructure. Inspection activities identify maintenance and repair needs to bridge items such as timber and steel handrails; timber, concrete and steel decks; expansion joints; steel and concrete beams; support piles and footings. The condition of each bridge is then summarized into a statewide bridge condition rating, along with the type and extent of repairs needed, if any. A thorough structural analysis is performed and safe load carrying capacities are determined. If necessary, weight restrictions are placed on the bridge.
· Total NCDOT Bridges – 13,500
· Structurally Deficient – 2,663. This means that while the bridge remains safe, it requires repairs and was built to design standards no longer used for bridges. A bridge is considered structurally deficient if it is in relatively poor condition, or has insufficient load-carrying capacity. The insufficient load capacity could be due to age, the original design or to wear and tear.
· Functionally Obsolete – 4,479. This means the bridge is safe, but needs to be replaced to meet current and future traffic demands. A bridge is considered functionally obsolete if it is narrow, has inadequate under-clearances, has insufficient load-carrying capacity, is poorly aligned with the roadway, and can no longer adequately service today's traffic.
· In NC we have 35 truss-type bridges (the type involved in the Washington incident).
Working with local municipalities
NCDOT inspects all state-owned structures and municipalities are responsible for inspecting their own structures. NCDOT does offer technical assistance with municipal inspections. Municipalities have three options: