Where’s The Bridge?

Questionable MDoT Database Compromises Auditor General's Bridge Inspection Performance Audit

Jefferson Rouge BridgeThe Michigan Office of the Auditor General released its overdue performance audit of MDoT’s Bridge Inspection Program Friday afternoon, just in time to miss last week’s news cycle. Weekend news reports focused on bridge inspection frequency, but there is a more fundamental question which should be answered first: Are the MDoT bridge records which were audited complete and correct?  Even remotely so?

The Federal Highway Administration collects bridge data from the State DoT’s and other sources to create and maintain the National Bridge Inventory. It is supposed to list all American bridges which have roads running across them or below them, along with ownership, identifiers, and condition data. Condition data is given as a number from 0 (failed) through 9 (good beyond current standards). These numbers then get converted into the descriptors you read in the press, such as ‘structurally deficient’, poor, good, etc.

The MOAG performance audit is replete with statistics derived from MDoT’s bridge inventory database which show – no surprise – that some of Michigan’s bridges are in poor shape. You can see MOAG’s statistics as of April 30th, 2014 in the audit or go to a searchable database of individual bridge data across the entire country, as of 2012, brought to us by Alexander Svirsky of MassRoads.com.

A first pass at the MOAG bridge inspection audit involved looking at the worst condition category of bridges, those rated 0 or 1 for failed or imminent failure. Going through the Wayne County owned bridge summary on Page 51 of the new MOAG audit, I was heartened to see that Wayne County has no condition category 0 or 1 bridges. But there are at least two zero condition category major bridges in Wayne County across the Rouge River, so let’s say I am experiencing a little cognitive dissonance just now.

The most spectacular and notorious bridge failure in Michigan during the 21st Century occurred in the early morning hours of 12 May 2013 to the double leaf bascule type drawbridge Jefferson-Bridge-2carrying Jefferson Avenue over the Rouge River on the Detroit/River Rouge border. The Wayne County Road Commission employee operating the bridge opened it to allow the iron ore carrier Herbert C. Jackson to pass up river, then put the bridge back down immediately before the Jackson came to the bridge. The allision was spectacular, bending both steel leaves, wrecking its elevating mechanism, and doing catastrophic damage to its concrete foundation & anchor points.Jefferson-Bridge-3

The Jefferson Avenue bascule bridge over the Rouge River on the Detroit/River Rouge border is a total loss. The leaves of this bridge were jacked up and welded in place so at least ships could pass. This bridge will require complete removal and replacement, but Wayne County is a dead man walking financially so this $ 100 million range project is languishing. A fun side note: The Herbert C. Jackson only suffered about $ 5,000 in damage during this allison, a real tribute to the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge which made great ships back in the 1950’s.

Now you might be excusing a single bridge omission from the audited MDoT database, but you should know that the next bascule road bridge up the Rouge River was also failed and under reconstruction on April 30th, 2014. The M-85 Fort Street bascule bridge over the Rouge River on the Dearborn/Detroit border was taken out of service in July 2013 for a complete reconstruction which is still ongoing.Fort Bridge Monument This used to be the most famous Rouge River bridge due to its association with the ‘Ford Hunger March’ during 1932. The Michigan Historic Site marker for the Ford Hunger March is actually affixed to the bridge operating pulpit. It is sort of difficult to overlook this bridge, but MDoT did.

So in a single Michigan County we have two major bridges which are most certainly failed and out of service, but which are not properly represented in the MOAG bridge statistical summaries.  We do know that both of these bridges did appear in the 2012 FHWA NBI bridge inventory, before they were taken out of service.  MOAG spot checked MDoT bridge inventory data in their quest audit to provide talking points for Proposal 2015-01, but the MDoT bridge database clearly leaves something to be desired. A subject for the next MOAG bridge inspection performance audit five years from now or perhaps grounds for reopening the latest MOAG audit?

There are lots of other fun facts which can be teased out of the 2015 MOAG performance audit of MDoT bridge inspections, particularly when it is compared to the 2010 MOAG performance audit of MDoT bridge inspections, but first it would be good to know whether we can place much credence in an audit of sketchy records.

You Betcha! (25)Nuh Uh.(1)

  6 comments for “Where’s The Bridge?

  1. Corinthian Scales
    March 16, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Gee, and it was just on May 12, 2013 that Wayne County officially stated, "we never had operator *error* that has caused a situation like this in 91 years we have been operating this". Yep. That, Wayne County.

    Government jobs is *hick* fun, yes? Methinks, it's all coming down to - Bond Issues Everywhere - regarding Snyder/Calley's big spending budgets ignoring them with the blessing of G. Scott Romney's 'House of Cards' guru who bailed his corpulent ass back to Utah, because the piper is wanting his money as - the dance - is coming to a close.

    Ps. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting around for actions from This Guy as he's proved what he is all about, who he will set out to destroy, who he will protect, and with a tawdry Republican majority calling the shots in Lansing, common sense says he wouldn't say sh!t if in fact had a mouthful of Kirk's.

    You Betcha! (9)Nuh Uh.(0)
  2. March 17, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Originally posted on Tom McMillin's Facebook Page:

    from tonight's Gongwer:
    This bill is similar to something I tried to get into road bills last year - it would bring accountability and more understanding to road projects. The idea that locals would be "burdened" with this reporting is OUTRAGEOUS. Do they realize that tax money comes from US???
    Somerville Road Project Database Gets Pushback From Locals
    A bill introduced by Rep. Pat Somerville that would require the Department of Transportation to post online a construction data file with information on state and local road projects saw resistance Tuesday as local governments said compiling the information would be overly burdensome.
    Mr. Somerville (R-New Boston) said HB 4225* would require an Excel-like spreadsheet with details of all road projects funded with PA 51 monies to be detailed in a downloadable file online.
    He said he has received questions from his constituents about various projects and not understanding why a certain road has been worked on multiple times in a seemingly short period.
    "(The bills) attempts to bring some transparency and accountability to the process in a user-friendly manner," he said. Mr. Somerville added that with the information posted online the state government and residents could hold contractors accountable for projects.
    The bill would require a variety of information to be outlined in the online file, including the cost of the project; funding sources; number of miles and lane miles applicable for the project; design life for the project; and the load profile, including the number of trucks weighing less and more than 80,000 pounds expected to drive on the road per day, among other things.
    Legislators on the committee were supportive in concept but there was concern about requiring local communities to assemble the data. Mr. Somerville said the data is already being collected by communities but would have to be put into an Excel-like form for residents to understand.
    Rep. Charles Smiley (D-Grand Blanc) suggested that local communities be exempt from the bill. He said he knows local communities collect this information and provide it to residents when asked.
    However, Mr. Somerville said his constituents have been having trouble getting this kind of information.
    Rep. Bradford Jacobsen (R-Oxford) said the database would be beneficial because it would help residents understand that not all road repairs are designed to last for years.
    Troy Hagon, with the Department of Transportation, said it does not have a position on the bill currently and is working with Mr. Somerville on changes.
    But the Michigan Municipal League, the Michigan Association of Counties, the Ingham County Road Commission and the County Road Association of Michigan all testified in opposition.
    The concern is that local communities do not have the resources to put the data in the correct format as the bill outlines and maintain the information.
    John LaMacchia, with the MML, said it would be difficult to comply with the bill.
    "Quite frankly ... this would be a tremendous challenge for our communities," he said. "Especially our smaller communities, a majority of our communities are very, very small with small staff and limited capabilities."
    He said it could be expensive for communities and some of the smaller areas that do not even have websites.
    Rep. Jeff Farrington (R-Utica) asked Mr. LaMacchia if the MML would be open to removing local communities from the bill in exchange for making the annual reports submitted to MDOT mandatory and posted to the public, to which Mr. LaMacchia said that would be workable.
    http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2015-HB-4225

    Transparency is hard, yo.

    You Betcha! (7)Nuh Uh.(0)
    • KG One
      March 18, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Now, here is what I don't get: Why is it easy to crank out a spreadsheet detailing when the local Po-po's are going to be holding their annual motorist shakedown "Click it or ticket campaign", yet showing people where/how money is actually spent is hard?

      You Betcha! (4)Nuh Uh.(0)
      • March 18, 2015 at 7:48 pm

        Got me.

        Hell, I'll volunteer to write a damned web app so all they have to do is type shit in fields.

        Also, here's the video archive of the committee hearing: http://www.house.mi.gov/MHRPublic/PlayVideoArchive.html?video=TRAN-031715.mp4

        You Betcha! (4)Nuh Uh.(0)
        • March 19, 2015 at 10:08 pm

          Also, here's an example JSON file I cooked up as an example to show why JSON might be a better format:

          http://pastebin.com/fGZRGrsy

          You Betcha! (0)Nuh Uh.(0)

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