Why it’s time for the industry to wake up to bridge rehabilitation

8th October 2019

It’s unfortunate that it took a tragedy such as last year’s Morandi Bridge collapse for many in the industry to finally sit up and take notice of the importance of preventative maintenance.

As well as the obvious risk to life, there are also massive economic implications if a critical route is suddenly unavailable for the foreseeable future. Yet, despite the dangers, regular inspection, monitoring and maintenance for identifying and rectifying structural deficiencies are still not standard practice around the globe.

In fact, according to the 2019 Bridge Report, there are more than 47,000 bridges in crucial need of repairs in the US alone. The same report also reveals that the pace of repairs has slowed down compared to previous years, predicting it would take over 80 years to service these bridges, presenting a serious risk to their lifespan. Bridges represent a significant capital investment, but they also are critical to local, regional and often national economics. They safeguard key routes, they open new markets, they facilitate supply to national infrastructure including hospitals and education, they are a vital element of infrastructure.

However, Phil Bailey, Chief Technical Officer at Cleveland Bridge Group, believes there needs to be a change in mentality for the industry, “The Morandi collapse will have had a huge influence on those areas that do not enforce routine maintenance and inspection regimes, and professionally review their findings. I think the reaction will be to carry out regular inspections with qualified personnel, and if an issue is identified, it is addressed swiftly and properly.”

In all instances of bridge maintenance, a proactive approach needs to be adopted. Rather than spending money on emergency repairs, firefighting, these potential problems should be identified and addressed well in advance. In this respect, the UK is leading the way for the industry.

As Phil Bailey points out, “The UK often get involved internationally, advising clients and contractors on maintenance issues because we have an established infrastructure system and have the experience of maintaining, refurbishing and strengthening old and complex structures.”

For example, Cleveland Bridge Group are currently handling a refurbishment project on the Humber Bridge. The original construction was only completed in 1981, but Cleveland Bridge Group were commissioned to conduct a detailed inspection of a new dehumidification system that was installed in 2010. This system is designed to prolong the lifespan of the bridge by removing trapped moisture from the main cables in order to maintain a non-corrosive environment.

Our inspection work is vital to prolonging the iconic bridge’s lifespan. Once the work is completed, the Humber Bridge Board will have the assurance that the cables have not experienced any further deterioration since 2009. It is a fantastic example of preventative maintenance that safeguards the future of the bridge.

Jim Mawson (Head of Operational Delivery at Cleveland Bridge Group) applauds the foresight of the Humber Bridge Board for greenlighting this project in the first place, “When it was inspected in 2009, [the bridge] wasn’t in a poor condition. There was no urgency for Humber to react, actually. But the board took the bold decision to invest significantly in 2010 and install a dehumidification system. It shows that maintenance in the UK is taken very seriously and we’re willing to invest for the long term.”

To avoid unexpected bridge failures in the future, the whole industry needs to follow the maintenance standard set by the UK. At Cleveland Bridge Group, we are always looking for ways to collaborate globally, helping to implement this model of preventative maintenance across the world.

For more information about Cleveland Bridge Group’s projects, both in the UK and internationally, head over to our website.

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