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No cash for US bridge checks

Skills shortages are undermining efforts to carry out vital bridge inspections in the United States, transportation officials warned this week.

The warning came in response to an investigation into decisions leading to the collapse of the I35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota last year.

The 139.6m span steel truss bridge suffered a catastrophic collapse last August killing 13 people.

At the time, an inadequate inspection regime was identified as one of the chief reasons why a potentially critical fault in the structure went unchecked (NCE 9/16 August 2007). The failure has also been blamed on design flaws in the bridge’s gusset plates (NCE 23 January).

But a report by a US Federal joint committee on the collapse has nonetheless highlighted the need for more engineers to work in state transportation departments to improve bridge inspection regimes.

Minnesota’s Department of Transport (Mn/DoT) responded to this request last week with its own report, saying: "The reality is that the availability of engineers and the current salary structure for the state make it difficult to compete with private sector employers and, at times, local government.

"A number of experienced staff have left state employment in recent years, attracted by salary increases on occasion in excess of 30%."
The committee had proposed funding for a plan to recruit and retain more engineers as the number of engineering staff in the department has dropped by 16% in the last five years.

Mn/DoT defended the management of its budget and its inspection procedures.

"Counties prioritise their deficient and fracture critical bridges for replacement considering their condition, traffic volume and detour length and aggressively pursue funds for highest priority bridges," says its report.

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