Sick Bridges: An Eagle Eye Team Special Report

State: No injuries or fatalities because of deficient bridges

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While the look of rusty bridges may worry drivers, the state’s chief bridge engineer says no one has died or been hurt as the result of a bridge failure in Massachusetts.

“That’s one of the things we pride ourselves [on],” said Alexander Bardow of the state Department of Transportation.

“We are proactive.”

Bardow attributes this to the DOT’s inspection program for the state’s 5,171 bridges.

Bridges are inspected every two years, he said. If a bridge is one of the state’s 432 structurally deficient spans, it is inspected every six months.

Bardow said MassDOT officials and highway department heads treat sick bridges like patients.

They might lower a bridge’s weight limits, for instance, to keep it safe until money can be found to repair or replace it.

“We have people who know these bridges, inspect them, and sort of stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “So if something looks unsafe, they will take appropriate action.”

That means it gets closed immediately, Bardow explained.

Occasionally there is a catastrophic and partial bridge collapse somewhere in the U.S. that prompts officials everywhere to double down on safety efforts.

The Interstate Route 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State collapsed in 2013 after an overloaded truck clipped a support structure.

That I-5 bridge was considered “fracture critical,” meaning if one key support goes, the whole thing can go. One person was injured when the bridge buckled.

In Minneapolis, Minn., 13 people were killed and 145 injured when an eight-lane interstate spanning the Mississippi River collapsed during rush hour in August 2007.

The investigation of the failure pointed to design flaws, the weight of concrete added over the years to the 40-year-old bridge and construction equipment sitting on a weak spot the day of the collapse.

Bardow said inspections are meant to find flaws and problems long before tragedy.


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