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KY Auditors Question Bridge Inspections

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

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Kentucky’s state bridge inspection program has fallen behind in reviewing inspection reports, due to lack of time and insufficient qualified personnel, state auditors have found.

Spot checks of 40 bridge inspection reports showed that eight had not been reviewed by a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) District Reviewer as required, according to the state’s FY 2011 audit.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet bridge inspectors double-check bridges in the wake of the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge. Inspectors are in short supply, KYTC says.

Several inspections had been performed more than a year before the auditors checked; one had been performed by a third-party contractor.

‘Significant’ Deficiency

“There have been problems with a lack of qualified review personnel available in the district, as well as a lack of time by qualified personnel to perform the reviews,” says the audit, which classifies the backlog among “significant deficiencies relating to internal controls and/or noncompliances.”

The audit notes that inspection reports must undergo an independent review within a “reasonable length [of] time,” although no set time is specified.

“Without a review of the bridge inspections, errors could go undetected and the quality control system is not functioning as designed,” the audit says. “In addition, the agency is not complying with the procedures established in the Kentucky Bridge Inspection Procedure Manual and Code of Federal Regulation requirements.”

The audit also recommends that KYTC specify in writing a set time frame for bridge inspection reviews.

Backlog Trimmed

In its response to auditors, KYTC reports that most of the overdue reviews stemmed from just one of the state’s 12 districts. That district has only one “Qualified Team Leader” in its structures section to perform bridge inspections; thus, there is no one in the district available to review those reports.

The district has been trying unsuccessfully for more than a year to hire an additional inspector, the agency says. While that search continues, other districts are pitching in with the review backlog.

KYTC spokesman Chuck Wolfe said in an interview Wednesday that the other districts had helped reduce the agency’s review backlog by two-thirds.

“We recognize that there has been a backlog on our bridge inspection paperwork,” Wolfe said. “The bridges are getting inspected. This is a matter of making sure all of our documentation is up to date, which we agree with. … The public has to have confidence in what we do.”

Inspector Shortage Noted

However, Wolfe added: “We have not had enough bridge inspectors. We rely a lot on bridge contractors and consultants to do the actual work.”

The KYTC has just 50 staff inspectors to inspect 13,804 bridges, Wolfe noted.

“We could use more [inspectors],” he said, adding: “It’s hard to find people for this kind of work. It takes a special breed to go climbing on those things and get under those things. It’s not for everyone. And there’s not much room for advancement.”

Regarding a specified time for inspection reviews, Wolfe said: “I certainly would not try to trivialize the auditor’s recommendation, but we believe we are making good progress on getting all of our documentation up to date. The Cabinet takes bridge inspections very seriously, and we think we do a very good job.”

Challenging Year

The last year has been a tough one for Kentucky’s bridges.

The Sherman Minton Bridge, which carries I-64 traffic between Louisville, KY, and New Albany, IN, was shut down Sept. 9 by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels after a significant crack was found in a load-bearing element.

Repairs are about 80 percent complete, and the Indiana Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that the bridge could open about a week earlier than the contracted March 1 deadline.

Still, notes Wolfe, “it is no small thing to shut down an interstate bridge.”

Meanwhile, salvage operations remain underway in Kentucky Lake, where a cargo vessel knocked down most of a bridge last month. The U.S. Coast Guard is leading that investigation.

Sighed Wolfe: “We have been hell on bridges lately.”


Tagged categories: Bridges; Health and safety

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