Thursday, July 14, 2016

State Route 104 Hood Canal Bridge undergoes Blue Ribbon Inspection

By Cara Mitchell

If you have driven across the State Route 104 Hood Canal Bridge this week, chances are you've encountered the bridge closed for maintenance work. In fact, we've heard from several commuters frustrated at the number of closures and are asking why we can't perform the work at night.

Every year, the bridge undergoes what is called a Blue Ribbon Inspection. It's an independent, two-week inspection performed at random times. All of our floating bridges undergo similar inspections. It includes a "watertight" inspection and a mechanical/electrical inspection. The Hood Canal Bridge is undergoing the mechanical/electrical portion of the inspection during the weeks of July 11 and July 18, which require several maintenance closures to measure and monitor those systems.

The Hood Canal Bridge Blue Ribbon Inspection, like this one in 2014, takes place every year
by professionals who are not responsible for the day-to-day bridge maintenance.

Why does this happen during the day?
To help reduce the number of times the bridge closes to traffic over the next two weeks, the inspection-related maintenance openings are being combined with marine openings whenever possible. The openings and inspections require coordinated work with crewmembers, engineers and inspectors, and it is not practical for all those involved to limit the openings to only night hours over the two-week period. In addition, the inspections require daylight to see inside tight spaces and to get detailed observations on bridge components and operations. Our crews are very aware of the effects on traffic from maintenance openings, and they try to minimize impacts by timing the openings with lower traffic volume time periods and keeping the closures as short as possible. The typical opening can last between about 15 minutes to up to about one hour.

The SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge (photo credit Don Clotfelter)

Process put in place in 1990
Blue Ribbon Inspections came about following the 1990 sinking of the I-90 Lacey V. Murrow floating bridge in Seattle during a windstorm. Then-Governor Booth Gardener established a Blue Ribbon Panel to investigate the circumstances that led to the sinking of the bridge. The result was mandated annual Blue Ribbon inspections that were required by the Transportation Commission. The inspections are performed by professionals who are not responsible for the day-to-day bridge maintenance.

The timing of this Blue Ribbon Inspection at the Hood Canal Bridge had nothing to do with the unfortunate seven-hour closure of the bridge on Sunday, July 10 and had already been scheduled for these two weeks. We know that every time the bridge closes to traffic it's frustrating. We encourage drivers to sign up for our free text/email alerts to get as much advance notice as we are able to provide and we appreciate your patience as we get through this important inspection process.