Millions of travelers cross thousands of bridges in Florida every single day. Many don’t know the risks certified bridge engineers take to check every nook, cranny, and trouble spot.
On a crisp January morning ABC Action News got an exclusive look at the challenges certified bridge inspectors face to make sure bridges are the safest they can be for motorists.
The Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge carries more than 33,000 vehicles daily. The half-mile long bridge connects Clearwater Beach to downtown Clearwater via State Road 60. Opened in 2005, the bridge was designed with longevity in mind, Florida Department of Transportation bridge engineer Jim Jacobsen said.
“It has improved concrete that will help a bridge last a 75-year life,” Jacobsen said.
For District 7, the Florida Department of Transportation, or FDOT, inspects at total of 1,343 bridges that cover 3,095.14 square miles. FDOT's District 7 covers PInellas, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Hillsborough counties.
“The Clearwater Memorial Bridge is inspected every two years from top to bottom,” Jacobsen said. “We have divers that inspect the foundation underwater. It is inspected end to end.”
Certified bridge inspectors were working on a pontoon boat with a 60-foot lift to inspect the underside of the bridge. With each passing boat the wake caused the lift, while fully extended, to sway back and forth like pendulum.
“Hope you don’t get sea sick,” said Bruce McMinns, one of the inspectors on the lift.
McMinn has spent the past 16 years making sure bridges in FDOT's District 7 are in good condition.
“Just kind of looking (to see) if there is anything that catches my eye,” McMinn said. “Basically, if anything increased in size from the last inspection."
Newer, stronger concrete and technological advances in engineering have helped keep newer bridges in better condition for a longer period of time. The older bridges are more susceptible to deterioration and break down due to saltwater.
“It is our worst enemy,” Jacobsen said of saltwater. “It is better to catch it early. If saltwater can penetrate through the concrete and reach the steel reinforcement, it causes the concrete to break away.”
Jacobsen said of all the bridges they inspect, there is only one that is considered “structurally deficient,” which means the bridge is safe, but is deteriorating to the point that it needs routine maintenance and inspections. That bridge is the Tierra Verde Bayway bridge connecting Tierra Verde to Fort De Soto State Park.
“If problems are detected in perhaps an older bridge that is starting to deteriorate then we inspect it every year,” Jacobsen said. “If it continues to deteriorate, we inspect it every six months to make sure the bridge remains safe to the public.”
For a complete list of bridge inspections click here.