Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bridge inspections make sure drivers stay safe

By Tom Pearce

We’re going to clean and inspect the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges beginning March 30, which got me thinking about our bridges and bridge projects. With 3,286 bridges – including overpasses and underpasses – that are part of the Washington state highway system, our crews have a big job maintaining, cleaning and repairing them to keep them in good condition.

What keeps our bridge staff so busy? We inspect every bridge at least once every two years. In fiscal year 2014 WSDOT inspected 1,892 bridges. Our crews look for cracks, rust and other deficiencies. We look at the paint, deck, rivets, expansion joints, bearings, moving parts, anything that could need repairs.

Using two UBITs on the Deception Pass Bridge,
as we did in 2009, helps complete the inspection
more quickly.
Some bridges are fairly routine to inspect, like freeway overpasses where a lift can be used from the street below. But cleaning and inspecting many bridges can be challenging for both our workers and for drivers. We may need to close a lane to stage our equipment, so we do our best to choose times when traffic is at its lowest level, often mornings and weekends.

A bridge like Deception Pass can only be reached from above, so it requires what we call a UBIT – an under bridge inspection truck. As you can see, it has a long arm with a bucket that can go under bridges to show our inspectors what they need to see. These can also be used to make repairs. Often hovering over water more than 100 feet in the air, this is not work for the faint of heart.

That’s not the only challenge with our Deception Pass bridge work. Using a UBIT requires us to close a lane, but with only two lanes there, drivers will have some delays while flaggers control traffic through the only open lane. And given the size of the bridge, this is no quick and simple job. We’ll take two weeks to inspect the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges, so drivers should start planning now. Crews will be on the bridges from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays beginning March 30. They’ll finish at noon on Fridays, with the last day set for April 10. The good news is we’re combining efforts with the city of Oak Harbor, which has its main water line on the bridge. They’ll inspect the water line at the same time we inspect and clean the bridge. If we did it separately, that could mean four weeks of lane closures instead of two.

Inspecting bridges with a UBIT often means blocking a lane,
particularly on a narrow bridge like Deception Pass.
 With so many bridges to inspect, it takes a lot of coordination to check all of them every two years. As the weather improves, you may see our crews completing more inspections. It may cause minor traffic delays, but regular check-ups can catch things that need to be repaired early, when they’re easier to fix. That beats a major delay for an unexpected problem any day.


Anonymous said...

There needs to be a sign at the intersection of highway 20 and Cornet Bay Road, telling drivers not to block the intersection. Getting in and out of Cornet Bay on Monday, March 30th, was a challenge due to vehicles on highway 20, blocking the intersection.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Bridge Crew!!! I hate when bridges fall down with us peoples in our cars. = (( I can chill a bit and appreciate the beauty of this area while you do what you do. You never mind those haters. Haters gonna hate. I will have a friendly smile and wave for you, I'd bring cookies but by the time I make it over the bridge I may have eaten them all. = ) Bless you and your families. ~

WSDOT said...

We contacted the project’s traffic control team, and they ordered a “do not block intersection” sign, which should be up today.

Anonymous said...

It would have been so cool to have traffic cameras at the bridge to watch what the crew were doing and enjoy the spectacular views!

Please put cameras at the bridge! Not only could we see when there are collisions & traffic on the bridge, but think of all the awesome fog & scenes of sun & water!

Pacific Northwest Mountain Dulcimer said...

Is this bridge inspection work done yet?

WSDOT said...

Cleaning and inspection of the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges finished on April 9.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the Deception & Canoe Pass bridges will have terrific "FOG LINES" added this maintenance cycle.

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