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Rocker Bearings Roll from Bridge

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

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A bridge along I-65 in Lafayette, IN, has been cause for concern for Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) officials and area commuters twice in one week. Because of continued safety concerns, it remains closed while experts seek to determine the underlying cause of the recurring problems, which may point to original pier placement.

Timeline of Events

The Wildcat Creek Bridge and a portion of Interstate 65 was closed Aug. 4 when crews working on the bridge as part of a road-widening project noticed problems—unusual movement as well as rocker bearings falling from under the bridge.

Sagging Wildcat Creek Bridge in Indiana

WTHR reported Friday that bridge experts were working to address problems causing the bridge movement, which led to INDOT shutting this stretch of road twice in one week.

Debbie Calder, an INDOT spokeswoman, told WTHR, “As they were working on one of the piers, the [rocker] bearings fell from this one pier." Four of the five steel bearings fell out.

At that time, Bob Fisher, a contractor working for INDOT, told WISH-TV, “Obviously it’s a good thing we were there doing work and recognized the problem immediately.”

Temporary steel supports were made and delivered from Indianapolis overnight, WTHR reported. They were meant to be in place until new bearings could be made and installed.

After those reinforcements were in place for more than 24 hours, the bridge reopened but remained under observation.

By Friday, however, the route was closed again. INDOT announced in a release that structural engineers monitoring the I-65 northbound bridge over the Wildcat Creek noticed movement in the riverbank pier and ordered the bridge closed that afternoon.  

Trouble in the Making?

Several sources are reporting that the issues plaguing the bridge have been on the radar at least since 2005, and they point back to the original construction. The bridge was built in 1969 and underwent reconstruction in 1988.

bridge inspection
© / jpierson_jerome

Two separate bridge inspections (not shown here) did call out concerns about the tilt of rocker bearings on two different piers; however no repairs were called for at that time.

The Lafayette Journal  & Courier reported that inspector Sherwood Garrison, in a May 2005 report, noted issues with the bearings atop the steel components supporting the bridge deck. He said they showed a tilt to the north that was exacerbated by falling air temperatures.

J&C quoted him as reporting: "The large rocker tilt is likely caused by an improper or poorly located Pier #4 during the initial construction or poorly located drill holes for the bearing assembly top plate.”

He added: "My thought is that the contractor may have tried to place the bearing rockers so that they were in the centers of their respective top and bottom plates, and hence the large lean of the bearing rockers."

Garrison flagged a similar situation in a June 2012 report, said J&C, noting an extreme tilt of rocker bearings in Pier #3. Neither report, however, called for repairs.

At the time of the first closure, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield told WISH-TV that INDOT engineers were aware of issues with the bearings and so were vigilant in that regard while working on the bridge.

Wingfield also indicated that the bridge had undergone inspections in September 2014 and May 2015 with no new issues cited.

“The one issue that contributes to this dates back to the original construction of the bridge back in 1968,” Wingfield said.

Current Status

WISH-TV reported Monday morning (Aug. 10) that geotechnical experts had been brought in Sunday to study the soil in the bridge area as part of the investigation to determine what’s causing the bridge movement.

Road closed
© / Erika Mitchell

The northbound stretch of I-65 in Indiana remains closed while officials try to determine the underlying cause of the bridge movement.

An afternoon press conference that day, reported by J&C, did not shed much more light on the matter. INDOT officials revealed that they believe soil conditions and water features, along with the construction work itself, have contributed to the settlement.

At this time, part of the northbound lanes remain closed with motorists being rerouted on an extensive 50-mile detour.

The average daily traffic count on the bridge is 17,500 vehicles, based on data from 2010, said J&C, with 37 percent of that traffic estimated to include semi-trailers.

Officials do not yet have a timeline for reopening the bridge, indicating that more work must be done before the underlying cause of the issues is understood.


Editor's Note: This story was edited to correct an INDOT spokesperson's reference to roller bearings, which should have read as rocker bearings.


Tagged categories: Bridge Piles; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Health and safety; Infrastructure; Inspection; North America; Quality Control

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/11/2015, 8:28 AM)

Please clarify whether we're talking about rocker bearings which fell, or roller bearings which fell. Rocker bearings are typically bolted and/or welded in place and are basically a big hinged saddle resting on or under a plate. Roller bearings are typically simply a free-rolling cylinder of steel. Images I Googled up: Rocker bearing: Roller bearing: In my experience, roller bearings are more likely to actually fall out. Rocker bearings can fall over. You can have both types of bearings on the same bridge The example roller bearing photo is from a Houston bridge which has both.

Comment from Amy Woodall, (8/11/2015, 9:56 AM)

Tom, INDOT spokesperson Debbie Calder confirmed this morning that it was the rocker bearings.

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