Utah bridge inspectors say red tape may prevent a new federal rule from achieving its goal of giving states more time to deal with problematic bridges by not requiring inspections as frequently for new bridges.
"The trouble is that providing all the details they want - to justify having a bridge inspected less often - would take almost as much time as the inspection itself," said Ron Rasmussen, one of the state's three bridge inspectors."That's because the bridges involved are new and are the easiest to inspect. It's almost just a walk-through with them."
Utah has plenty of problematic bridges where extra time could be well used. A recent Deseret News inspection of state records showed that 332 of 2,463 bridges in the state - or one of 13 - is considered "deficient." That is better than the national average of 48 percent of bridges being deficient.
Rasmussen's boss, Abby Fallahi, assistant chief of structural engineering for the Utah Department of Transportation, said the rules just announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation will actually require more work of his department - and may require more people to be hired.
He explains that past rules required the state to inspect all bridges once every two years. "So one year we would inspect all the bridges on the state road system, and the next year we would inspect all the county and local bridges.
"Removing a bridge here or there won't save much time, because I have to send a crew out to the different areas of the state anyway," he said.
And the new rules require more detailed inspections of bridges over water, including underwater inspections to determine whether water is scouring away earth beneath structures that support the bridges.
That will require divers to inspect some bridges where the water beneath is deep year-round. "That includes bridges like the one (on US-40) at Starvation Reservoir. We don't have many bridges like that. We don't have any divers now. So we may have to contract with some," Fallahi said.
Bridges over shallow water could be inspected by a man wearing waders but would still require a small boat to carry sonar and other equipment needed. Fallahi said such work would require two two-man crews, but he only has three inspectors in the state.
Fallahi said the state, however, must find ways to comply with the new rules. "If we don't, they could withhold highway funding."