And the bridges continue to crumble: Now Tennessee must perform emergency bridge repairs

And the crumbling bridges continue.

I thought we finally learned something from the Minnesota I-35W bridge collapse two years ago.

But since then, we’ve had the much-publicized closure of the Oakland Bridge and most recently the Bay Bridge. That’s two in California in less than a year.

Now, the Tennessee Department of Transportation just announced that it will perform emergency bridge beam repairs to the I-81 northbound and southbound bridges over U.S. 11E at exit 23 in Greene County during the next two weekends.

TDOT crews will close the I-81 northbound bridge on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 10 p.m. ET to begin repairs and will reopen I-81 north by 10 a.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 15.

TDOT crews will also make repairs to the I-81 southbound bridge the following weekend beginning at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 21 until 10 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22. During each closure traffic will be diverted down the off ramp at exit 23, across U.S. Highway 11E and back on to I-81.

Three cracks, two in a bridge beam on the northbound bridge and one in a beam on the southbound bridge, were discovered by a work crew involved in the ongoing $1.2 million dollar rehabilitation project that includes bridge deck repairs, painting and the installation of an over height detection system on U.S. Highway 11E to keep trucks with large loads from hitting the bridges, according to TennDOT.

“Unfortunately this emergency repair is occurring at the same time as the I-40 rock slide in North Carolina, but the safety of the traveling public is our number one priority,” said TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges in a written statement. “We’ve scheduled the repairs at night so they have the least impact on motorists. The bridges are safe for travel and we’ve been keeping a close watch on them since the cracks were discovered. Still, the repairs need to be done sooner rather than later.”

TDOT believes the cracks developed sometime after the last bridge inspection was conducted in July 2008. The cracks were discovered by a construction crew performing repairs on the bridge. TDOT personnel were alerted and the repairs were immediately scheduled.

The cost of the repairs, estimated at $79,271, will be added to the existing bridge rehabilitation contract being performed by General Constructors, Inc from Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Crews will use a welding technique called full penetrating welding where molten metal is created during the process and penetrates through the entire bridge beam eliminating the cracks. Before traffic is permitted to cross the bridge, TDOT will inspect the weld using X-ray technology to ensure the weld was performed correctly.

I’m glad to see that the problems are being addressed immediately. But an even bigger problem is our lack of funding for the nation’s surface transportation program.

Highways are in disrepair, bridges are crumbling, but we can’t seem to get a reauthorization of our highwill bill.

Instead, our president still supports an 18-month delay before reauthorizing SAFETEA-LU.

What’s even more ironic about this, is according to the Better Roads’ 2009 Bridge Inventory  (go to our current issue or click on the digital edition on this Website to access it), Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of combined structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in the nation.

What’s it going to take to get the message across to Congress and Obama? A bridge collapsing underneath of them?

If I failed to do my job, I’d get fired. Why aren’t we holding our nation’s elected official accountable?