KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Some civil engineers in West Michigan reacted to Friday morning’s bridge collapse in Pittsburgh.
Looking at pictures of the damage, Dr. Osama Abudayyeh, who chairs Western Michigan University’s civil and construction engineering department, says the red flags were in plain sight. Poor ratings were given to that bridge in 2011 and 2019 and no score was given in the eight years in between.
“It’s a failure that should have been anticipated and maybe prevented or at least protected so that nobody gets injured,” Abudayyeh said. “A bridge that is not well-maintained… means they’ve done nothing to it. That’s not proactive. That’s really neglecting.”
He explains that bridges in such conditions can no longer carry the necessary load they were designed to. Combine that with aggressive seasonal weather changes, like extra weight from wet snow, Abudayyeh says action should’ve been taken for drivers to not be crossing such dangerous bridges.
“Anything that gets to this rating should be at minimum… closed and fixed, upgraded, or replaced,” Abudayyeh said.
Abudayyeh said Michigan is one of the more progressive states with a good bridge maintenance program and accelerated techniques. But with many bridges throughout the state needing some TLC, he says any such investment is worth it.
“If a bridge is really bad, close it,” Abudayyeh said. “I know it’s inconvenient for the public, but it’s better than seeing any human suffering. Pittsburgh was lucky today.”
MDOT’s chief bridge inspector, Matt Chynoweth, says what happened in Pittsburgh is extremely rare.
“It just does not happen. Bridges just do not fail on a regular basis. So, when it does happen, it’s a big deal. There’s a huge investigative effort under way to find out what was the cause.”
State law requires bridge inspections every 24 months or less. Bridges considered in poor condition need to be checked as often as six months. If a qualified inspector reports a bridge needs to be closed for safety reasons, MDOT does not second guess it.
“If the bridge is open, we have determined that it is safe for the public,” Chynoweth said. “MDOT is very, very diligent and so are our local agencies in making sure that our bridges are inspected, making sure they’re load rated, making sure we are watching what we need to.”
The Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association is calling on lawmakers to do more.
“It’s estimated that Michigan needs to dedicate $2.5 billion for bridge repairs. More will be needed to keep our other bridges in safe condition,” the release stated. “The time is now for Michigan’s leaders to take action to prevent a disaster here at home.”
Chynoweth says the figure to cover the necessary fixes is closer to $3 billion, but agrees additional investments are needed.
*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly extended MITA’s call to a specific government official. MITA did not explicitly call on any specific government official.