Inspecting thousands of bridges in Missouri falls on a handful of civil engineers

Published: Dec. 8, 2017 at 9:31 PM CST
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The Missouri Department of Transportation is in charged of more than 10,000 bridges across the state.

Back in the 1960's the federal government made it mandatory for bridges more than 20 feet long to be inspected every two years.

"The bridges get in worse and worse condition faster than we can get them replaced and rehabbed," said Matt Geiger with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

He is one of two inspectors in our region that is responsible for making sure 1,800 bridges are in good shape.

Forty, fifty, sixty hours a week I'm inspecting bridges for six months straight. The whole purpose of it is to keep everybody safe," he said.

Geiger's process is simple yet effective.

"Here, up top, we can hear that the traffic is going overhead and it's banging, banging loudly which means that the expansion joint is open and it's allowing moisture to come through," he said.

He points out the rust on a support beam. Then takes a hammer to some of the concrete.

We can hear the difference between, this is the good concrete. That's the hollow concrete," he said.

A hole in the bridge was most concerning for us.

"The barrier is held moisture there and it's deteriorated but it's not going to really impact traffic," explained Geiger.

It seems to be in the center of the structure. Cars don't drive over the hole. Geiger will document and monitor the compromise in the concrete.

We asked, "Is there any kind of special attention that's paid to this bridge because of the amount of traffic that travels on it and because of the condition?

"Traffic usually doesn't change the frequency on what we inspect, whether it's a hundred cars a day or a hundred thousand cars a day. This bridge here some deterioration, some issues, but for the most part the deck and most of this bridge is rated in the fair category. This bridge was built in the 50's and it's been rehabbed a couple times since then. For a bridge that's already 60 years old, it's still in pretty good shape. It's completely serviceable," he explained.

We asked, "It's not too bad for a really old bridge?"

"Exactly. Most bridges were designed to have about a 50 year expected life cycle," he said.

However, if a bridge is unsafe, inspectors won't hesitate to close them.

"Just because we don't have money, that's not a good reason to say well it might be okay," said Geiger.

Inspectors also check the top of the bridge, where cars travel for any damage. Though the side underneath shows most of the wear and tear.

The bridge on Chestnut Expressway is scheduled for improvements and repairs next year.