ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is well-known for its dams and levees, but did you know USACE also has bridges it inspects and maintains?
The Albuquerque District has nine bridges it inspects and maintains and just like with dams and levees, safety is paramount.
While the district’s Bridge Safety Program doesn’t have as high a profile as the Corps’ National Levee Safety Program or National Dam Safety Program, the Bridge Safety Program ensures the safety and continued operation of the district’s bridges.
“It is essential that inspections occur to ensure the safety of the public, our own Corps personnel and to ensure that the district can continue to perform the mission. Throughout history, there have been several bridge failures, (e.g., the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse killing 13 people). The district will not jeopardize the life safety of the public nor anyone in the Corps family, thus SPA’s Bridge Safety Program,” said Rich Zaragoza, civil engineer in the district’s Structural Unit, Facilities Design Section.
“All district bridges have been inspected since the passing of Public Law 95-955 in 1978,” he said. “The district’s internal Bridge Safety Program started in 2012, when the Structural Unit became the district’s internal bridge inspection team. Since 2012, the Structural Unit/Bridge Inspection Team has assumed all inspection duties with in-house personnel and resources. Prior to 2012, the district managed contracted inspectors,” said Zaragoza.
The Structural Unit of the district’s Facilities Design Section performs all inspections with in-house, fully qualified bridge inspection engineers and technicians. All district bridge inspectors are qualified through FHWA-approved, two-week training courses and five-year refresher training sessions. All Bridge Inspection Team leaders have additional requirements including being both a registered professional engineer and a practicing structural engineer and must have a minimum of five years of bridge inspection experience.
The District’s Bridge Inspection Program follows the guidance of the USACE Bridge Safety Program Regulation, ER 1110-2-111.
“Although similar to other programs across federal agencies, our program is verifiably more robust and comprehensive in accordance with USACE policy. All of the district bridges are reportable to HQUSACE through the Corps’ own bridge reporting system, Corps of Engineers Bridge Inventory System (CEBIS) and our public bridges reportable to the FHWA through CEBIS,” said Zaragoza.
During an inspection, all systems of the bridge are inspected. This includes the superstructure, which is the part of bridge that supports the roadway, the deck or actual road surface, the substructure, which are the structural elements that support the superstructure, foundations, which are the elements that support the substructure, and the ancillary components – things which include signage, rails, and attached equipment.
The Bridge Inspection Team also has experienced surveyors who utilize GPS technology to map any bridge defects; non-destructive testing (NDT) capabilities to inspect suspect bridge components; and experienced welders and fabricators who can handle minor bridge repairs.
One external resource utilized in the program is the contracted, very unique, under bridge access inspection vehicle, a.k.a. “snooper truck,” that allows access to areas below the bridge from a vehicle directly above, atop the bridge deck.
All of the district’s nine bridges are required to be inspected on a five-, two- or one-year interval, depending on Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) classification or Corps requirements.
Non-public bridges, such as intake tower bridges at district dams, are required to be inspected on a five-year cycle. Public bridges, such as the Tetilla Peak Access Bridge at the Cochiti Recreation Area, are required to be inspected on a two-year cycle. Two of the district’s bridges – at Conchas and John Martin - are annual inspections due to their age and classification as “public access” by FHWA.
In fiscal year 2022 there were five bridges inspected, the last of which was the John Martin Reservoir Spillway Bridge in Colorado. In fiscal year 2023, five bridges are scheduled for inspection with the Conchas Spillway Bridge being first in line.
“The SPA Bridge Safety Program is committed to ensuring a safe and serviceable district bridge inventory and appreciate the district’s support in accomplishing this important, often overlooked, mission,” said Zaragoza.