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Oops: New Bridge Is Too Low

Thursday, May 26, 2016

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Delaware transportation officials spent more than $5 million to construct a new bridge in 2011. Five years later, they are expecting to put another half million dollars into the project to get the bridge they wanted.

Although the Delaware Department of Transportation specified a bridge allowing 21 feet, 6 inches of clearance, the finished structure was 6 inches too low, the Associated Press reported Monday (May 23).

Those extra inches are necessary in order to allow double-stacked freight train cars to pass on the track beneath it, so DelDOT has hired a new construction contractor, Mumford and Miller Inc., to jack up the Newport Road bridge the extra half foot.

Fixing the error will cost taxpayers nearly $500,000, DelDOT says.

Survey Error Suspected

One of DelDOT’s state bridge engineers suspects the error resulted from the survey team taking measurements from the wrong spot—the crew may have measured the clearance from the ground rather than the top of the track.

“It appears that the original survey shots may not have been top of the rail; they may have been bottom of the rail,” Barry Benton told The News Journal. “When we fill out a survey request, we request top of rail, and that’s what we thought we got.”

Benton also indicated he thought there was a “lost opportunity” to discover the mistake during the construction process.

He said the contractors may have measured the structure’s height after its steel skeleton was in place without realizing the structure would settle by as much as a few inches once the roadway was added.

“They would have probably measured it before the deck went on,” he told the area paper. “At that time they would have measured [21 feet 8 inches] because the deck had not yet been placed, and they would have thought everything was fine.”

Benton noted that these scenarios are a result of his own speculation, as DelDOT has not made a final determination on the situation.

Moreover, he does not hold the contractor, Richard E Pierson Construction, responsible for the error, saying the fault “lies squarely with the surveyors.”

The state transportation workers who surveyed the bridge site are no longer with the agency, according to Benton; however, their departure is a result of “normal turnover” and was not related to the error, he added.

A ‘Teachable Moment’

Mistakes on infrastructure projects, although a burden on taxpayers, can also serve as learning experiences for the industry, Doug Hecox, spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, told the News Journal.

“Incidents like this are teachable moments,” he said. They “actually serve to make the engineering community more thorough in their work.”

A mistake like this is unlikely to happen again, according to Benton. DelDOT has implemented a new policy that now requires surveyors to take three measurements when assessing clearances from railroad tracks: one on each side of the rail, and one on top of the rail, he said.

Raising Bridges

The mistake was originally discovered in 2012, not long after the new bridge’s completion.

To avoid having to raise the structure, DelDOT requested a waiver from CSX Corporation, which owns the tracks, in order to keep the bridge at its constructed height.

CSX officials, however, denied the request as it is reportedly changing over to trains that carry two stacked containers on each car and require the extra clearance.

Moreover, the railway company is requiring bridges to be raised across the country, as it adjusts the way it moves freight, CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said.



Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bridges; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rail; Transportation

Comment from N Tober, (5/26/2016, 10:55 AM)

'Teachable moment' -- pretty cavalier re: the $500,000 its going to cost taxpayers.

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