Massachusetts Engineers Inspect Bridges
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Bridges are being inspected across the country. Federal officials have urged all states to examine structures similar to the one that collapsed in Minnesota. Massachusetts has more than 5,000 bridges, 24 of them are truss bridges like the one that collapsed last week in Minneapolis.
Shannon Mullen went out with a team of engineers examining a bridge in Waltham, Massachusetts.
(Soundbite of flowing water)
SHANNON MULLEN: The Farwell Street bridge was built across the Charles River in the early 1800s, and standing in the water underneath it, it looks like it. There are cobwebs and rust, a little graffiti, crumbling concrete and chipped paint. But engineers inspecting this bridge and two dozen others around the state say there are no serious problems.
Mr. FARHAD RASTEGARI (Bridge Inspector Engineer): Well, based on the age of the bridge, it is in okay shape.
MULLEN: Engineer Farhad Rastegari says this bridge was last upgraded in 1938, and was inspected last July. It's much smaller than the one that collapsed in Minnesota, spanning only a few hundred yards. But in response to that tragedy, Massachusetts ordered re-inspections of all truss bridges that hadn't been looked at for 12 months.
Mr. RASTEGARI: If we have it in our inventory, we need to recheck them and re-inspect them.
MULLEN: Rastegari says truss bridge inspections are time-consuming, with their networks of field support teams. His team starts with a concrete deck, then checks the steel beam super structure. This one supports 18,000 vehicles crossing it daily. They also look for cracks in the bridge where it's embedded in the ground. And finally, they survey the riverbed itself to see if it's shifted.
Mr. RASTEGARI: And all and all, the majority of the deficiencies, as I look at here, are minor.
MULLEN: He points out from efflorescence - that's where water and salt seep through cracks in the surface of the bridge and eventually come out the underside like little white icicles. In places where aging concrete is crumbling, Rastegari says a lot of bridges have that.
Mr. RASTEGARI: Inspectors, they found the area to make sure the concrete is soft.
MULLEN: They do what? They...
Mr. RASTEGARI: Yes.
MULLEN: They bang on it?
Mr. RASTEGARI: Yes, with a hammer. They bang on it.
(Soundbite of hammer pounding)
MULLEN: Some of it crumbles into the water below.
(Soundbite of hammer pounding)
MULLEN: Along the edge of the river, inspector Greg Krikoris points out places where high water has worn away some of the bridge's concrete foundation.
Mr. GREG KRIKORIS (Bridge Inspector): And we just monitored the progression, and it gets worked on down the road.
MULLEN: Krikoris says nothing really changed with this bridge since he inspected it last summer.
Mr. KRIKORIS: We're just doing our job, like we do every other day. This is what we do day in and day out, all year round, any type of weather. We just go out and inspect bridges.
(Soundbite of traffic sounds)
MULLEN: Drivers, joggers and bicyclists pass over the bridge under the midday sun, unaware of these inspectors tramping around below. It's a scene playing out across the country this week. But Farhad Rastegari says inspectors are always out there trying to prevent a repeat of Minnesota.
Mr. RASTEGARI: Every tragedy is difficult to bear. Looking at the videos felt difficult, especially when you look at something that, day in and day out, you are part of it.
MULLEN: Rastegari estimates these extra inspections should take two or three weeks. But even if engineers find only cosmetic problems with the truss bridges, in Massachusetts, a recent federal review found structural deficiencies with more than 500 other bridges. And the state admits it'll be a challenge to find hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the repairs.
For NPR News, I'm Shannon Mullen.
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