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Vital spending needs the support of robust arguments

I read your editorial comments on the I-35 collapse (NCE 24 January) with interest.

I agree that there may be a lack of investment in "inspection and assessment", but I am sure there is a lack of quality by comparison with "design".

I'd suggest there are a number of reasons for this including lack of personal interest in assessment work, lack of adherence to robust processes and lack of meaningful drivers and deadlines .

Typically, the consequence of a major structural failure is multiple deaths, but is preventing such deaths the principal aim of our inspection and assessment activities?

Once a bridge or structure has been selected for assessment our principal aim should be to develop our confidence that structures will not fail or, if appropriate, identify cause for concern. Once we have assessed a structure we then typically have to consider two arguments:

- the structure is standing, and its condition and loading regime has not significantly worsened, thus it should continue to stand.

- assessment calculations say how the structure "works", and that it should stand, allowing for deterioration.

We do not need BOTH arguments – one strong argument is much better than two weak ones. However it is critical that one argument is really secure.

As engineers we should clearly state the argument for why we have confidence the structure is safe (if applicable). Provided we do that and also take suitable and prompt action if such an argument cannot be identified, then we are meeting our responsibilities.


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