When on vacation, I tend to get eye rolls and sighs when I tell the family that we’re going out of our way just to drive over an interesting bridge. Not just famous bridges like the Golden Gate, mind you; some are bridges that few visitors have ever heard of. You might say I’m a little bridge crazy.
Speaking of out of the way bridges, to perform a bridge site assessment in rural Kentucky, it once took us nearly 30 minutes to drive two-and-a-half miles of gravel roads through four creeks just to get to it. That’s my idea of fun—getting out of the office and into the real world to figure out how to make people’s lives better through infrastructure.
Today, I’m a design team lead for the Bridging Kentucky Program. Its mission is to find ways to get almost 1,000 bridge repairs and improvements into construction within a 6-year span. It’s my role to lead design efforts, plan and orchestrate the staff to make sure we’re meeting schedules. We’re getting things done ahead of schedule—we’ll do 400 in just the first year of the program.
One thing I wish I could do is to help dispel fears that bridges are in worse shape than they are. Despite some legitimate news coverage about bridges being functionally obsolete, most bridges are not on the verge of collapse—many are just in need of minor repairs and routine maintenance.
“Functionally obsolete” means any number of things. For example, a bridge may have clearance that’s too low for tall trucks, or narrow lanes and shoulders, or that it simply is not capable of meeting the traffic demands. But I help find ways to fix it, as well as the occasional deteriorating bridge that may, indeed, be unsafe.
For example, we were once evaluating a truss bridge, and when we reached the abutment, we saw that some of the stringers had holes through the webs. As we looked up, we saw two school buses driving across it. Right away we called the county highway superintendent and recommended they close the bridge for repairs. And that is a constant reminder of the importance of what I do.