A Conversation with Sarah Wilson, Bridge Maintenance Engineer with Illinois – DOT District 1

Sarah Wilson with IDOT – District 1

Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Sarah Wilson, the chair of the TSP2 Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership Board, has had a long and successful career with Illinois DOT – District 1 that includes the city of Chicago. Her expertise and knowledge of bridge preservation are outstanding. Her passion for bridge preservation comes through, as can be seen by her openness to new ideas, innovations, and willingness to learn about new solutions to address bridge preservation challenges.

What are the highlights of your professional career?

I graduated from college in the late 80s, which was a sort of unfavorable time for business. Black Monday had just occurred and the stock market had crashed. As a consequence, a lot of companies weren’t hiring. The State of Illinois, however, was an exception since they were still hiring. Having already worked for two summers with them, I ended up hiring in with the State. It turned out to be a very good decision for me. I’ve really enjoyed my career with the Illinois DOT.

Getting my Professional Engineer [PE] license was definitively a key point of my career. I got it very quickly after the mandatory four years of training. So, I did four years with the Illinois DOT and then got my PE license. It came at a time when many employees opted for an early retirement. Therefore, I had an opportunity to move up quickly into a mid-level manager position. I was put in charge of the Chicago bridge unit for Illinois DOT, covering maintenance in the Cook County that comprises of 134 municipalities, including the city of Chicago. I worked about 10 years in this capacity. Then, when my supervisor retired, I was appointed to his position.

Have you always been with District 1 managing the Chicago metro area?

Yes, I grew up in Chicago. Working with District 1 has been a very good fit for me

What are your current responsibilities with Illinois DOT – District 1?

I am the bridge maintenance engineer, having the responsibility for bridge inspection, maintenance and operations. I also manage emergency-type repairs through a dedicated maintenance crew, which also work on the six movable bridges that are under my purview. In addition to inspection, maintenance, and operations, I also coordinate with the Bureau of Programming and Design on a listing of bridges that should be repaired. I then provide the Bureau with field notes and other reports on how to do the repairs.

Do you do the inspections for the Local Agencies?

No, in Illinois, the local Agencies have to inspect their bridges on their own.

At District 1 we focus on the DOT inventory. The Chicago metro region has approximately 1,450 bridges that are longer than 20 ft with an average length of 300 ft. Then we have 700 culverts that are from 6 to 20 feet long. We do most of the inspections in-house. Due to lack of staff, sometimes we hire consultants, but, generally, inspections are done by our own staff using in-house equipment.

You most definitively have quite a number of bridges and culverts to inspect and manage.

Yes, it is a good size inventory. Statewide the DOT manages approximately 8,000 bridges. [Ed Note: The State of Illinois has a total of more than 26,000 bridges, which are managed by both the DOT and the Local Authorities]. So, I have 1,450 bridges out of the 8,000. But I’d like to say that it’s not fair to count numbers in this way. You must also take into account the average bridge size.  Downstate an average bridge is typically 30 feet wide and 50 feet long, whereas in Cook County an average bridge is likely to be 4 lanes wide and 300 feet long. So, when you take into account the square footage, District 1 has a considerably greater percentage of the State’s inventory.

There are many bridges in the city of Chicago. How many of these bridges are managed by District 1?

We only manage bridges on the Interstates and those on State routes, such as Illinois Route 64 and Route 72. The other bridges, so called “city bridges”, belong to the City of Chicago. For example, the City manages a bridge like Monroe Street over the Chicago River.

How did you get involved with bridge preservation?

When I started with the Bridge Section, one of the first things I did was to write the Illinois DOT’s bridge condition reports. In order to complete these reports, I made a field assessment of the bridge giving it a list of ratings, but I also had to document all bridge problems. This entailed doing surveys of top and bottom deck, piers, and other structural elements, and then recommending the repairs. So, from the very beginning, I was working with the objective of extending the life of bridges.

As I grew up in the organization, bridge preservation became my main focus. A bridge that’s in better shape is obviously less of a concern and makes you not worry as much at night. Also, repairs that can be done early on are evidently more effective and have a lesser cost that repairs that are done later, when the deterioration has very likely become more extensive. Definitively, keeping bridges in a good shape is a major drive for me.

I’m glad that the industry has started recognizing the importance of bridge preservation. The FHWA Transportation Asset Management Plans [TAMP – see Links] are all beginning to recognize the need of managing bridge assets by utilizing preservation strategies.

Is bridge preservation a sustainable practice?

Yes, getting the most life you can out of a bridge is a sustainable practice.

A lot of people understand the concept of preservation better when it is applied to something they own, such as a car. If you don’t change the oil of your car, you are not smart. Its engine very likely will lock up after 20,000 miles. Similarly, if you’re not taking care of the joints of a bridge, or you do not address the section loss of its structural parts, you are not smart. The bridge will very likely deteriorate quickly You must plan ahead. Otherwise, you will run the risk of dramatically reducing the life of your bridge.

What are the challenges of managing bridge preservation in the Chicago metro area?

Traffic is the most significant challenge for bridge preservation in a dense urban area, such as Chicago metro. Needless to say, closing lanes to do maintenance and repair work is complex when there is a lot of traffic. Do you know that saying: “How many notes do you need to name that tune?” Well, in the case of lane closure you must say: “How many hours do you need to do that repair?”. In the Chicago metro area, it is imperative to reduce the number of hours as much as possible. In order to complete the work in the least amount of time sometimes we are pushed into doing the work differently, for example using more expensive materials, which work faster, but might be less durable. Definitively, these types of repairs are a balancing act between durability, cost, and motorist inconvenience.

Certain repairs are not even possible in a highly trafficked urban bridge. For example, we cannot repair a bad joint that leaks in just 4 hours, from midnight to 5:00 a.m., which is the window of time for lane closure that is available in the city of Chicago.  So, we go underneath the joint and paint the beams periodically so as to protect them from the deterioration caused by the leaking joint. The bottom line is that we handle the result of having a bad joint rather than fixing it. In this case we perform a balancing act between mobility, keeping the lanes open, keeping the bridge in good shape and the cost of doing so.

Due to lower level traffic, in downstate Illinois, they are allowed to close lanes. When they paint an overhead bridge that crosses the interstate, they will close the lanes below for the time it takes to paint the bridge, maybe two weeks. Well, I’m not allowed to do that. I can only close lanes at night. So, it’s a lot more expensive to mobilize in and out. Working at night is also more dangerous for workers. You’re always looking over your shoulder waiting for that car that makes a mistake. So, we have quite difficult tasks to perform where multiple variables must be considered.

Can you speak of your achievements in bridge preservation?

When Obama was President, he issued the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA]. In order to have access to the ARRA funds, projects had to be shelf ready. Well, just before ARRA was issued, I had done some preparatory work with our programming department. We identified about 10 large bridges that needed preservation work, such as replacing expansion joints, having a new deck overlay, and so on. The plans were almost ready but we didn’t have the money to implement them. So, when the ARRA funds were made available to the State, District 1 was in an ideal situation to get access to those funds. While the other Districts basically resurfaced roads, at District 1 we were able to do major bridge repair work, in addition to resurfacing roads thanks to ARRA funds.

Our ability of planning ahead definitively paid off. This was particularly important for District 1 because we have large bridges for which the amount of funding for repair and maintenance can be considerable. A large bridge that is 1,000 feet long and 4 lanes wide can easily require $2 million for preservation work. The fact that we got to use those ARRA funds because we planned ahead, and therefore we were able to finish the plans in time, was a win for me. This is how I look it up.  Today we have bridges for which we’re not considering deck replacement because we did the overlay a few years ago through the ARRA funds.

Could you share a successful bridge preservation story?

My predecessor and I had talked about the need of having a kind of recipe book for keeping bridges in good shape. Over time the discussions continued amongst our staff. Eventually the Central Office took this task on and came up with the Bridge Preservation Guide [see Links] for the State. It provides practical recommendations on how to keep bridges in good conditions, such as replacing bridge joints every 12 years, if necessary, or putting an overlay on a new bridge deck after 25 years.

The Guide emphasizes the concept of cyclical maintenance. You do not want a bridge to reach a certain level of deterioration before planning for maintenance and repair. When this happens, you have to take into account the time it takes to develop the repair plan and to put it into action, which can easily add up to more than one year because government bureaucracy moves slowly. In the meantime, the deterioration is not going to stop with the result that the designed repair plan could be insufficient for the new level of deterioration. Practically speaking, you cannot say: “I cannot start repairing an overlay until a minimum of 10% of the deck shows problems. Last year I could not do anything because it was only 9%. This year I can do the repair because the deck reached the minimum 10% deterioration”. The fact is that when you reach 10% deterioration, it can take 18 months for the repair plans to be developed by the Bureau of Design and 6 months for the contract to be let.  You will end up waiting up to two years before starting the repair job. Projects don’t turn around on a dime, but deterioration does not stop.

These constraints due to bureaucracy can be avoided by recommending cyclic maintenance. On an average bridge, the Guide recommends putting an overlay after 25 years.  This doesn’t lock you into 25 years exactly. Maybe the joints are bad at 22 years and you need to do something earlier than 25 years. Maybe you can postpone the overlay of a few years. But the Guide indicates that somewhere in the middle of the 50-year deck life, putting an overlay will help extend the life of the bridge. So, you can plan in advance.

I must add that the Bridge Preservation Guide suggests the types of actions you would have to take for preserving bridges in a good state in a perfect world.  In the reality we don’t have enough money to follow the Guide to the letter. However, the Guide remains a great resource. It helps plan ahead, evaluate how much money you are going to need to do cyclic maintenance on your bridges and also effectively make use of the vast amount of data that is available for the bridge population.

When was the Illinois DOT Bridge Preservation Guide released?

About four years ago, in 2019.

How does the Illinois DOT Guide relate to the Bridge Preservation Guide [see Links] issued by the FHWA in 2018?

The FHWA Guide provides many recommendations but does not give specifics. The Illinois Bridge Preservation Guide is more prescriptive. It provides practical details that help build plan of actions for implementing bridge preservation strategies.

How does TSP2 support your bridge preservation work at District 1?

Sharing success stories and learning how other states are handling bridge preservation issues is a great asset provided by TSP2. For example, some states are using bridge management system programs to help manage bridge preservation and maintenance. Illinois DOT has just started adopting these programs. So, I’m learning from the other states how they’re taking advantage of these tools to help guide their programming and build plans for bridge maintenance.

I am also learning from the vendors that are affiliated with TSP2 about the different materials available on the market and how they can perhaps help us do a better job. At a recent meeting somebody mentioned that the states are slow to take advantage of these materials. This may be true. You must start somewhere and TSP2 is a good place to have an initial knowledge of these materials before bringing them to the DOT and organizing field demonstrations.

Definitively, TSP2 allows me to learn what’s available on the market and what some of the options are for various bridge preservation issues. It is a very good resource where I get input from both DOTs and industry.

I would like to close this conversation with a few questions about your personal life. What do you like to do in your free time? What is your favorite book, movie or television series?

I like spending my free time with my five nephews and two nieces. I have never married and do enjoy their company very much.

I also enjoy going to my retirement house in Wisconsin.  Sometime ago I could have gone from a quarter acre house to a half-acre house in the Chicago metro area. Instead, I chose to stay in my quarter acre house in Chicago and buy a house on a 20-acre land in Wisconsin. It is swampy land, not really farmable. But there are a lot of deer and I have seen badgers and foxes. There are so many different animals up there. So, I’m looking forward to spending time in Wisconsin.

I am fond of my cats.

I do like flea markets. I don’t necessarily buy much, but I like looking and walking, which is actually a fun way to get some exercise.

I won’t say I have a favorite book, but I read a lot of science fiction. I also read romance. I don’t really watch movies or television series.


TAMP: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/asset/plans.cfm

Illinois DOT Bridge Preservation Guide: https://public.powerdms.com/IDOT/documents/2083419/Bridge%20Preservation%20Guide

FHWA Bridge Preservation Guide: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/preservation/guide/guide.pdf

A Conversation with Darlene Lane, Administrative Assistant and Travel Coordinator with NCPP

Darlene Lane, NCPP, with Dennis Tang, NCPP

Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

It is almost impossible to think of TSP2 Bridge Preservation without also thinking of Darlene Lane. She plays a key role in the organization by coordinating and managing all its activities, from the regional and national meetings to the monthly calls of the regional Partnerships and Working Groups. I had a conversation with Darlene about her career, work and personal interests.

Can you summarize your professional career? What was your work experience before joining NCPP – TSP2 Bridge Preservation? How did come to get involved with this organization?

Before joining NCPP – TSP2, most of my professional career was in the banking industry. I started out as a teller at Standard Federal, a Michigan-based bank in Troy. I then worked as a savings counselor, mortgage counselor, and loan counselor, before being promoted to branch manager. From there I moved up to Assistant Vice President. I have fond memories of working for this bank. The Troy office was located in a lovely place, right next to the Somerset mall, which is a very highend mall. Not to speak of the beautiful artwork that the President, Mr. Thomas Ricketts, placed in the offices for the enjoyment of both the employees and the customers. These were the good times of the mortgage industry before the 2009 crisis, when everything went to hell and back. Standard Federal was bought out by Bank of America leaving us with the new owners that were ruthless. They immediately took away all the benefits so that I was left without my business cell phone, mileage, and credit card. Even more important, they changed my pay structure in such a way that I would have to pay them out of my own pocket if I did not reach my goals. So, potentially I could have found myself in a situation where I would be paying Bank of America to work for them.  Without reservations, I decided to take my buy-out. Soon after that, people got fired by Bank of America left and right. So, I was really glad I took that decision.

Who was going to hire me next? That was a big worry.  I was in my 50s, without a job, and in need of insurance. With the support of a friend, who was a manager for Citizens Bank, I started working for this bank. After completing their training in Flint, the only available opening was in Lansing, which was quite a drive from my house. So, I started communing to work.

In Lansing I used to wait on elderly lady, whose name was Betty Molinere. Among the other things, I helped her open safety deposit boxes and instructed her on how to pay bills on line. She was the mom of Patte Hahn, my current supervisor at NCPP, but at that time I did not know that. One day I got a call from Patte, asking me to reach out to her after work. At first, I thought that something might have happened to her mom. After being reassured  that everything was fine, I learnt that she actually wanted to know if I could be interested in taking a new position with the NCPP. She was impressed by my customer service skills, based on her mother’s words of appreciation. I recall that she said something like: “Well, I have a new position that I’m trying to fill in. I don’t even know if you’re looking for a job. But my mom thinks you would be wonderful for it”. Needless to say, I was very interested in Patte’s proposal. I did phone interviews with four people from NCPP. Then I did another set of in-person interviews before getting the formal offer.

At first, I did basic tasks at NCPP, such answering the phone and filing. Then one day, the person who was responsible for the bridge program suddenly quit. She left a note and her office keys on my desk after hours. The next thing you know, Patte and the other managers are talking behind closed doors. What soon followed was Patte coming to me and asking if I wanted to take on the position for the bridge group. My first thought was that I did not know anything about bridges except they go over water, but I said to myself: “Give it a try. So, I took the position and started organizing meetings and travels for the Bridge Preservation group. I have been doing this work and enjoying it since then. The best part is the friendships I’ve made and the kinship with everybody. I do like helping people. It makes me feel good inside.

I started working for TSP2 Bridge Preservation 12 years ago. Without a doubt, these 12 years have been a source of great satisfaction for me, both professional and personal.

What are your current responsibilities with NCPP?

As I mentioned earlier, I take care of travel arrangements for the annual meetings of the four Regional Partnerships. This mainly includes hotel and flight reservations for all the participants, excluding industry representatives, such as manufacturers and consultants. Then I run the monthly calls for the Bridge Preservation Partnerships and all its 8 Working Groups. It sums up to about 10 calls per month.

I also handle the accounting related to travel expenses, such as reconciling hotel bills, making sure that we are not getting overcharged or there is not a name in the bill that does not belong to our lodging list.

How has TSP2 Bridge Preservation evolved over time?

The number of people we serve has changed significantly over time. At the first TSP2 Bridge Preservation meeting in 2010 there were 60 people attending. Today we consistently have between 200 and 250 people participating in the meetings.

The amount and quality of information we offer to engineers and bridge preservation practitioners has also increased dramatically. Our web site has become the go-to-place for technical information and researches in the field of bridge preservation. Also, we have a number of Working Groups that are creating new tools and setting up new initiatives to promote and support bridge preservation.

Our internal organization has also grown over time. Twelve years ago the bridge preservation program was run by two people: Ed Welch and Steve Varnadoe. Currently the program can count on two people fully dedicated to it, Nancy Huether and Todd Shields, plus a team of seven people, between employees and consultants, who work for NCPP and dedicate a considerable part of their time to bridge preservation. In addition to myself, this team of seven people includes, Kathy Chomas, in charge of accounting, Inger Johnson, who helps with travel arrangements, Patte Hahn, who is the administrative manager for NCPP, Dennis Tang, who is in charge of IT and web site updates, Zach Trost, who does all our videography, and Bouzid Choubane, who is the director of NCPP since 2021.

There are three more people that complete the NCPP team: Rex Eberly, who does certification training for the Pavement Preservation, John O’Doherty, who is involved with research programs, and Dennis Halchoff, who lives in Arizona and works with equipment engineers throughout all the DOT states. [Ed Note: NCPP has a third branch in addition to Pavement Preservation and Bridge Preservation that is dedicated to Equipment Management. An equipment manager can be defined as anyone having a fleet to remove snow, cut the grass and do road work.]

NCPP also manages the Road Profile Users’ Group, which is called RPUG. This is a non-profit organization that serves as forum for the exchange of information between interested parties in road profiles.  Another branch of Pavement Preservation is the Emulsion Task Force called ETF, for which I also organize meetings and travels.

Do you also organize the Pavement Preservation meetings?

Patte organizes these meetings while I handle travels, flights and hotel rooms for them. I am in charge of travel arrangements for the three the branches of NCPP, not only for Bridge Preservation. I make reservations for 400 to 500 flights per year.

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

First and foremost, I enjoy the people I work with. I am surrounded by such a nice group of people that are always thanking me for my work, even though I feel as if I don’t do anything special.

I do love my job. And I also love to travel for my job. If it had not been for the traveling, it would have been difficult for me after COVID. Since 2021, when my husband passed away, I have been alone at home in the Michigan countryside. It is not really easy to be at home 24 hours a day by yourself.

I must say that my husband’s passing away was very hard on me. He died at a most unfortunate time during our daughter’s wedding reception, when he aspirated on food and choked. Even thought there was a medical doctor present, nothing could have been done to save his life. He was only in his 60s.

The health of my husband Tim has marked the last 13 years of my life. He had COVID twice during the pandemic when he was hospitalized for 102 days as a total. Before COVID, in 2009, he suffered a stroke. I found him at home in our pole barn laying on the ground with my neighbor’s dog next to him. I had no idea how long he had lain there. He survived the stroke, but had to learn to walk and talk again.

Soon after the stroke, my mom moved in with us so as to take care of my husband when I was working. I had to work because I needed medical insurance. Tragically, one night, when she went out for a coffee with her sister, her car was hit. She passed away 10 days later leaving 54 grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was the matriarch of our family.

After the passing away of my mother, there was no other solution for me but to place my husband in a nursing home. I could not leave him alone at home because he could have taken a fall or easily hurt himself. This was 2015. For the next 6 years, every night after work, I would go to the nursing home and spend a couple hours with him. It was hard for me both mentally and physically. My husband was a very large man. So, just bathing and getting him dressed was hard work. The following morning I was tired, but nevertheless, I kept going to the office, doing my work with a smile and upbeat. Professional counseling helped me manage all that happened in that trying period of my life.

I do understand how your work at NCPP, the comradery and the traveling, helped you during those challenging times. I remember you telling me of a trip abroad to Paris that you enjoyed in particular.

Yes, that was an unforgettable trip. I was invited by Larry Galehouse along with all the NCPP team. In the end though, it was only me and Dennis Tang who were able to accept the invitation. I was accompanied by a girlfriend, who, strangely enough, shares the same birthday as Larry.

My working schedule in Paris was such that I had time for some sightseeing. I walked a lot, took the metro, went to the markets where I still recall the beautiful flower arrangements. What I liked most was sitting at a café’, drinking wine and eating cheese as if I were a regular.

Our hotel in Paris was very nice, with a room with a balcony and an elevator so small that only two people and one suitcase could fit in. One evening we went out to see a show of the Folies Bergere where we had front row seats. I have never seen anything similar in the USA.

So, definitively, that trip to Paris was a special treat for me.

Earlier I asked you what you enjoy most of your work. Now I would like to ask you the opposite question. What do not your like of your work? What is it challenging for you?

It can be challenging to relate to so many different people since everybody has different ways to treat others. My rule is to treat people the same way I want to be treated.

Since I began working from home, I miss the office environment, going out to lunch with my colleagues, having our birthdays at work, and stuff like that. I am a people person, who likes walking into the office and say hello, bounce off ideas or just chit chat. Don’t get me wrong though. I am still very productive at work.

When did you start working from home? Was it related to COVID?

Darlene working remotely from home.

It was March 13th of 2020 at the peak of the COVID pandemic. We haven’t gone back yet. I’m the only person that’s actually single in our office. So, I’m by myself all the time at home and there’s loneliness.

I go into the office sometimes when I have to get name tags ready and ship everything necessary for the meetings.  We have a lower volume of shipments recently due to the fact we went green and no longer print stuff such as agendas and attendee lists.

I live out in the country. There is a dairy farm across my road and another farm behind me. My internet service is horrible and without a lot of choices. Since Verizon changed the configuration of their tower, I can get only one bar at home. Sometimes I have to go out on my deck to be able to work. You can imagine that this is not a very feasible option in Michigan during the winter.

As usual, I would like to close my interview with a question about free time. So, what do you like to do in your free time?

I like to travel, as you already know.

I love the ocean. There is something about the salty air, the beach, the waves that soothes my heart.  

When Tim was alive, we liked to hunt. We did trap and skeet shooting and also target shooting.

I enjoy cutting the grass at my home that is on 12 acres. I obviously don’t cut all of it. I just cut for a couple hours. It is a very relaxing activity for me. I think it is about being out in nature. I do love nature. There is nothing like seeing a beautiful sunset or staring at stars at night.

I like drinking  wine. We have a lot of wineries in Michigan, especially up North.

I love going up north. This can be deceiving in Michigan where we call north both the upper peninsula and the upper part of the lower peninsula. I live in such a beautiful State. I‘ve lived in Michigan all my life like every one of my siblings and their families.

As I mentioned earlier, my mom had 54 grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was one of six and had 11 kids. I was the oldest of the 7 that survived. My dad was one of 13. So, I come from a really big Polish Catholic family that I enjoy.

Who was Polish, your father or your mother?

My father was 100% Polish. He came to the US from Warsaw. They actually had one of their 13 children on the boat on their way over here. My maiden name is polish, Kaczorowski. On the other hand, my mom had Irish, French and American Indian-heritage.



A Conversation with Wayne Harrall, Kent County, and Jason DeRuyver, Michigan DOT

Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

For a number of years, Michigan DOT has been implementing a successful collaboration program with the State’s Local Agencies. The DOT shares its knowledge, expertise and resources dedicated to bridge preservation with Local Agencies with the end goal of prolonging the service life of bridges. To learn about the collaboration between Michigan DOT and the State’s Local Agencies, I had a conversation with Wayne Harrall, Deputy Managing Director, Engineering at Kent County Road Commission, and Jason DeRuyver, Bridge Engineer at the State of Michigan.

Wayner Harral, Kent County Road Commission

Could you outline your responsibilities with the Kent County Road Commission?

Wayne: I basically manage the engineering division at Kent County. The County includes the city of Grand Rapids, which however has its own Governmental Agency and therefore is not part of my responsibility. Similarly, there are half a dozen cities within Kent County that are corporations having their own government of roads, bridges, buildings, and, for most of them, water facilities. In summary, the Kent County Road Commission manages everything in the county, except those cities and Grand Rapids.

My primary responsibility is to manage our road and bridge program at the Road Commission, including survey, design, inspection, and project administration.

We bid out many of our own projects, but we also bid federal and state funded projects through the State of Michigan. Our bridge projects are financed through a funding, in the range of $50 million a year, for which all Local Agencies in Michigan compete. It is definitively a competitive funding process.

We also have a permit office at Kent County Road Commission where we primarily deal with utility companies, new driveways, commercial and residential properties. The permit office is also under my supervision.

Overall, we have about 2000 miles of roads at Kent County. We maintain 160 bridges and we inspect 171. Out of our 160 bridges, 7 are overpasses, which are typically railroad bridges, 2 are park bridges and 2 are trail bridges over our county roads.

Between your several responsibilities at Kent County, as a percentage, how much of your time is dedicated to the management of bridges?

Wayne: Probably 10% of my time goes to bridges. This includes the management of the staff that comprises a bridge engineer and a dedicated bridge crew performing mostly preservation type of work. We also utilize a consultant to do some quality assurance inspections in order to be in compliance with the State requirements. While a lot of our preservation projects and rehabilitation design work are done in-house, we also utilize consultants for some specialized bridge work, such as underwater inspections.

How did you come to be involved with bridge preservation?

Wayne: I started my career with CSX rail. I must say that I learned early on about the importance of preservation since rail companies cannot afford to replace bridges if they want to keep trains running. As a matter of fact, during the time I worked for the rail company, I was involved in the replacement of just a couple of bridges, which were damaged by rail derailments beyond rehabilitation.

During my years with CSX, 33 years ago, I gained a specialized knowledge about the preservation of timber and steel bridges, especially when I worked in Pittsburgh.  I also managed in-house bridge crews.

After CSX, I joined the Kent County Road Commission. It was 33 years ago. I remember that one of my first projects was a latex deck overlay on one of our largest bridges over the Grand River. That was a completely new experience for me. Rail bridges typically do not have concrete decks and therefore do not require bridge deck overlays. That particular project went well. About 25 years passed before we had to do another preservation project on that deck.

In all my 33 years with the County, I have continued to support and encourage bridge preservation practices. There are so many reasons to embrace preservation. First and foremost, there are financial considerations since good preservation practices can keep bridges out of very expensive replacements or rehabilitation projects.

As part of our strong preservation program at Kent County, we have developed an innovative technology for the preservation of metal culvert pipes. It consists of lining both bottom and sides of the corrugated metal pipes with reinforced concrete so as to strengthen and extend their service life. The preservation of the metal culverts is particularly important in Kent County since several of our bridges span over multiple metal culvert pipes exceeding a total of 20 feet.

Can you provide more information about the use of culverts in your county?

Wayne: We have approximately 2400 culverts in our county, of which the majority are made of metal. Actually 60% of our bridge system consists of a combination of culvert pipes spanning over 20 feet. Many of these structures were built in the late 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, they have started showing their age.

When we replace, in most cases we have to build a traditional bridge structure with a distinct sub- and super-structure. This is what our environmental Agency in Michigan, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) (see Links), typically requires us to do. Culverts can actually be detrimental for the environment since they collect sediments and restrict the stream to the point that they can choke it down. On the other hand, traditional bridges totally span from one bank to the other of the natural stream, upstream and downstream, thus representing a much better solution for the environment. However, traditional bridges are also much more expensive than culverts to build and to maintain.

As I mentioned earlier, we have been able to prolong the life of our existing metal culvert bridge structures by adding up to 6 inches of a reinforced concrete lining that adheres to the inside of the corrugated metal pipes. Thanks to this preservation treatment, it is most likely that we will extend the service life of our metal culverts for another 30 to 40 years.

Is bridge preservation important in your County?

Wayne: Yes, we definitively invest in maintenance and preservation activities in order to keep our bridges in a good state. It is important to start maintaining bridges early. The sooner we get started, the less work we have to perform over time and the less expensive this work is. We rehabilitate only those bridges that are beyond preservation, when we do not have any other option available.

Do you consider the lining the metal culvert pipes as a preservation activity? What other preservation activities do you implement at Kent County?

Wayne: Definitively, we regard the lining of the culverts as a preservation activity. We apply the concrete lining using either private contractors or our bridge crew, which consists of three to four people.

Our in-house crew also does epoxy sealing of concrete bridge decks. They had the opportunity to learn about the use of epoxy sealing by working with the State of Michigan bridge crew in Grand Rapids. It was a very valuable experience for our crew.

Our crew also spends time clearing vegetation from both underneath the bridges and along the sides. By reducing the amount of vegetation close to bridges, we reduce possibility of having water in direct contact with bridge materials, while we increase airflow and sunshine. As a result, we greatly diminish the risk of concrete deterioration and steel corrosion.

In some instances, our crew installs precast concrete box culverts, a type of project classified as a bridge replacement. However, many of these installations are contracted out.

Can you explain how this type of replacement is done?

Wayne: We basically install precast concrete box culverts that are fabricated in Michigan to replace circular pipe culverts, from the small 12-inch diameter all the way up to 20-foot overall culvert span that is classified as a bridge. We hire a crane company to set those boxes in place. We do not own a crane because we wouldn’t utilize it to the magnitude that would justify its cost. Overall, it is a fairly simple process. It is like replacing 24-inch diameter concrete pipes but the pieces are much bigger. Some of this work is contracted out.

Jason: I just want to add that it is not out of the ordinary for Local Agencies in Michigan to replace their own structures. I know at least two other counties that that have replaced their own structures and have capacity to do even more.

What is the advantage of using the precast box culverts?

Wayne: These culverts are probably the type of structure in our inventory that requires the least maintenance for the expected service life. As a ratio, out of 100 culverts, approximately 30 are precast concrete box culverts.

A number of these box culverts were installed 40 to 50 years ago. For the most part, they are still in good condition. The biggest issue with these structures is making sure to seal and maintain the joints because most of the segments are either six or eight feet in length, sometimes only four feet in length. So, you end up with a lot of joints that must be kept sealed as tightly as possible. If the joints are properly managed, these culverts should last from 75 to 100 years with very little additional maintenance.

What are the main challenges that you encounter with the implementation of bridge preservation activities?

Wayne: The limited availability of our in-house crew is probably the main challenge I have. In Kent County we have to do most of our bridge work between April and October, maybe November depending on the weather. During this time the crew must focus on other projects beside bridges due to the 2000 miles of road. Also, our workers get a lot of overtime in the winter when they’re plowing snow, and therefore they take more vacation during summertime. As a result, we don’t necessarily have a seven to eight-month commitment for bridge preservation activities by the three to four people of our crew.

Another challenge is the increasing cost of labor and materials. It applies to anything, whether it is preservation, replacement, roadwork, or culverts. We have been experienced a big spike in cost in 2022. In addition, we are having issues related to the implementation of contracts. It has become increasingly difficult to get enough bidders for the preservation work that we bid out. Due to the limited number of competing contractors, we are getting only two or three bids per project and, as a result, we are seeing higher pricing.

Can you speak of the funds that you have available for bridge preservation? Do you have access to federal funds?

Wayne: We have a yearly allocation on our budget for bridges that ranges between $2 and $2.5 million. It encompasses rehabilitation, replacement and preservation. Most of the work is offered to contractors to bid on. However, some of our budget goes to fund our in-house bridge crew and some of the larger box culvert replacements that are done in-house, as I mentioned earlier. Our board is willing to continue to support the implementation of the existing bridge asset management system with the objective of keeping our bridges in good condition.

As far as access to federal funds, we do have a Local Bridge Program here in Michigan. It is supported partly by the state, through half of 1 cent funds from the state’s sales tax on gasoline for a total of approximately $30 million per year, and partly by federal funds for approximately $20 million per year. As a total, the program is currently in the range of $50 million per year. More money is generated through the state since state funds have been raised with the increased cost of gasoline. On the other hand, federal funds have tended to stay fairly constant.

In order to receive funds from the Local Bridge Program, we compete with 82 other County Road Agencies and about 450 cities and villages.

At Kent County we are typically successful in getting one or two preservation projects funded every year. We are just finishing up a half million-dollar preservation project that includes deck repair, joint repair, deck sealing and spot painting, on a large bridge, 550 feet long, over the Grand River. This is a big preservation project for us.

Could you speak about the criteria for assigning funds from the Local Bridge Program to the projects that are put forward by county road agencies, cities, and villages?

Wayne: There are seven Regional Bridge Councils throughout the State of Michigan (see Links), which are spaced out geographically. Each Council reviews and then scores project applications with the purpose of allocating funds.

It must be underscored that each region receives its funding based on the bridge decks’ square footage. So, it is the region that has more bridges, or longer bridges, that receives the larger percentage of the $50 million allocated for the Local Bridge Program.

The project selection happens every year typically in September or early October. The selected projects are actually three years out, which gives Local Agencies the time to work through some of the environmental or historic issues we typically deal with. Local Agencies can also take advantage of this extended time to move projects around, prioritizing projects that require less approvals.

There’s a group in Lansing staffed by State of Michigan’s employees that manages all those grant projects, not just the selected ones. It is called the Local Agency Bridge Program Group. They review plans and specifications to develop final bid packages for each project prior to putting contracts out to bid.

Typically, this group receives 8 to 10 times more applications than the ones that get selected. So, for the $50 million allocated to the Local Bridge Program the dollar amount of project applications is approximately $300 million each year.

Can you say more about the Local Agency Group in Lansing, Michigan?

Wayne: As I mentioned earlier, this group essentially helps processing projects out to bid by doing a plan review and preparing bid proposals. They also oversee how the funding is distributed between the seven Michigan DOT Regions.

Local Agencies are responsible for the design work of a submitted project. The group in in Lansing revises this work and makes comments. When a Local Agency completes the necessary modifications to design, plan and specifications, as recommended, the State bids the project on behalf of the Agency. Once construction begins, the Local Agency is responsible to administer the project and to do inspection and testing. Sometimes the Agency hires a consultant dedicated to the project.

Jason DeRuyver, Michigan DOT

I would like to ask a few questions to Jason now. What are your main responsibilities as bridge engineer with the Michigan DOT?

Jason: I am in charge of priority preservation focusing on bridges and structures.  My main responsibilities are split into two distinct operations. One entails supporting all of our direct force maintenance crews in the field, showing them how to do maintenance and preservation work on bridges, helping Local Agencies out with bridge maintenance actions, trying new maintenance methods and materials, and also performing a few of our in-house, specialized maintenance and repair methods.

My other area of responsibility focuses on design projects for letting to those contractors that perform very specialized bridge maintenance and repairs. Some of these projects involve emergency repairs, other are just high priority projects. Our unit does not do big projects, such as bridge or superstructure replacements, but we focus on specialized preservation and maintenance projects with the goal of keeping bridges safe.

What is your main goal with bridge preservation, in addition to keep bridges and structures safe?

Jason: What is really important for me is to make sure that everyone in the State is doing preservation in a similar manner. This applies to both our direct force employees and the contractors. We develop preservation methods with our employees and special provisions for the contractors so as to make it easy for all of them to perform the same repair in the same manner in the State of Michigan.

Could you speak of the preservation activities that are implemented by Michigan DOT?

Jason: All of our seven Regions have a bridge crew varies wildly in size from three to eight people. We meet once a year at the Michigan Bridge Conference (see Links) where we discuss best practices from more expert work to basic activities, such as vegetation clearing, cleaning off substructure unit bearings and deck sweeping.

All our bridge crews are capable of doing deck patching and joint replacements. Most of the crews are capable of doing epoxy overlays or applying epoxy healer-sealers. Some of our crews are able to perform more specialized repairs, like carbon fiber wrapping, substructure patching, and also patching PCI beams.

We do a lot of crack injection with epoxy resins. We also perform polyurethane injections to stop leaks in culverts and to lift bridge approach slabs so that there’s not a pronounced bounce at the end of the bridge.

We do quite a number of applications for bridge preservation with our in-house crew but we also contract out. It just depends on how long a preservation work can be put on hold.

I understand that contracting out bridge preservation work essentially depends on the level of urgency. Am I right?

Jason: Yes, the level of urgency but also the availability of our crews. If, for example, we have a major road rehabilitation work that’s going to be contracted out, we will typically contract out all of the bridges in the same corridor. As a consequence, the preventive maintenance on those bridges will be done by a contractor rather than by our in-house crews, who will be free to redirect themselves to other urgent work.

Can you provide ballpark data of how much work you do in-house versus the work that you contract out?

Jason: It is really difficult to say because we measure contractor work by millions of dollars while the work done by our in-house crews is measured by number of bridges.

Just as a ballpark figure, I would say that 70% of our bridge preservation work is done by contractors. It mainly entails deck patching, substructure, and superstructure repairs. Typically, we don’t hire contractors to do deck sweeping, vegetation clearing, routine joint sealing, and work like that.

What is the major accomplishment, the thing you are most proud of with your bridge preservation work?

Jason:  I think it is the way we work. We support each other and we are open to share new ideas for solving problems.

In Michigan we have really created an environment with open lines of communication, where we listen to everyone no matter what Agency they’re with. We definitively are all together in this effort to preserve bridges.

I think Wayne can attest to it. If he calls someone of my crew because he needs help or information about how to do a project, we are right there for him, as for any Local Agency’s representative that calls us.

Similarly, if a region has a big job and not enough people to perform it, we will pull people from other regions to provide help and support. The bottom line is that we are always willing to help each other.

Going back to Wayne, are the Local Agencies responsible for inspections? I learnt that Caltrans does all inspections for the Local Agencies in California. Does it work the same in Michigan?

Wayne: In Michigan the State is responsible for making sure that bridges get inspected but it is the Local Agency the performs the inspection or contracts it out. There are talks regarding potential changing in the way our laws are set up, but this is how the process works for now.

It all comes down to funding when it is time to perform inspections. Each Local Agency receives funding for all its activities based on population. The larger the population, the more money the Agency receives.  For example, Kent County gets more funding than neighboring counties because it is the fourth highest populated county in the state. So small counties, which can afford only one engineer on staff or have no engineers at all, must hire a consultant to do inspection work. On the other hand, I believe one third of the counties and cities are able to do inspections with their own staff.

Can you speak of the collaboration between Kent County and Michigan DOT and also outline a few examples of this collaboration?

Wayne: At Kent County we reach out to Jason or to his staff directly.  For example, recently we had a couple of issues with the application of a new type of deck overlay that we had never applied before. Jason was available to advise us, share his experience with that type of overlay treatment and inform whether the issues we had were concerning to him or not.

Another example of collaboration entails equipment sharing. We have two large bridges over the Grand River, which have the longest span in our county. As part of the process of inspecting these bridges, we met with the DOT for two days in the field and used their under-bridge inspection crane unit under their guidance. Without this crane we could not have performed the same type of hand-on inspection work on those bridges.

The collaboration also works the other way. If the DOT needs some of our people to support their bridge crews, we are willing to support them within our limitations.

Jason: Fundamentally Michigan DOT is in an advisory capacity for Local Agencies. We never supervise their crews or the contractors they hire or direct them, but we advise Local Agencies and their people at the job site.

What happens if, hypothetically, a county chooses not to receive advice from Michigan DOT? Can it ever happen?

Jason: I am convinced that Local Agencies are not required to take the advice from Michigan DOT. However, the process for approval of Local Agencies’ projects goes through the DOT. So, there’s no possibility for a Local Agency to submit a preservation project without interfacing with Michigan DOT. Overall, the DOT has responsibility to administer and oversee the Local Agency Bridge Program that pertains to projects and the Bridge Inspection Program.

Concerning bridge maintenance performed by Local Agencies’ crews, not all 83 counties in Michigan have reached out to my department to discuss preservation. I must say though that all of the highest populated counties do for sure. And then there are a few rural ones.

Can you describe a few achievements that stemmed from the collaboration between Michigan DOT and the Local Agencies?

Jason: I must underline the hard work done by our unit at Michigan DOT on fostering open lines of communication with the Local Agencies.By no means is it about forcing collaboration. Our unit is simply trying to make sure that we are as responsive and accessible as possible to every request that comes in concerning bridge preservation.

Our annual Michigan Bridge Conference (see Links) is an important venue for networking and communication. During the conference, counties that are interested in starting their own bridge preservation program reach out to us for some form of collaboration. We discuss what we can do together, the support we can provide in the field and the kind of equipment they need. Setting up the conditions for this spontaneous form of communication and collaboration with the Local Agencies is a major achievement for Michigan DOT.

We are also proud of the collaboration established between Local Agencies and regional DOT offices, which creates opportunities for Local Agency staff to work alongside Michigan DOT bridge crews. Local Agencies’ workers learn from these opportunities and take the knowledge back to their own bridges. As an example, a few years back a couple of counties in northern Michigan, which were already under contract with the DOT to plow snow, asked if they could send their field people to work with our bridge crew for a summer. We gladly accepted their request.

Definitively, Michigan DOT do support a partnership approach with Local Agencies.

What about the achievements of Kent County?

Wayne: The annual Michigan Bridge Conference (see Links) is very important for us too. It is a venue where we talk with the other Agencies, the DOT, but also contractors and consultants. It is also a place where we are exposed to innovation and new ideas.

Our solution of lining the culverts in order to prolong their service life was presented at one of these conferences and was very well received. Other counties contacted us in order to have the details of what we are doing and possibly implement the technology. It is certainly an achievement for us to be able to propose an innovative technology for bridge preservation and share our knowledge of it. However, the conference is also a place for sharing the things that are problematic and for which we do not currently have a good solution. We must continue to share both success stories and problems, which are equally important.

Before closing I would like to ask what you like to do in your free time, what your favorite hobbies are.

Jason: I like gardening, spending time with my family and serving our community. Our local church provides a lot of opportunities for me on this regard.

Wayne: I share with Jason the passion for gardening. I like perennial gardening and flowers. I also grow a vegetable garden since I live in a small subdivision lot.

I really enjoy the outdoors. At present I no longer hunt and fish as I used to do but I play softball, even though I’m getting old for that too.

I do like spending time with my family. I must say that I have a large family. My wife has five siblings, I have two sisters and my parents are still both alive. So, I have got a pretty big family base in Kent County, especially when you count in the grandchildren and the cousins.

As a public servant, my work is part of my personal life. When I go to different places people know I what I do for a living and ask questions about road and bridges. It is as if I have friends all over the county. I am pretty passionate about what it means to be a public servant.

James Patterson is my favorite writer. I like most of his books that are thrillers, detective stories, and have mystery kind of plots. They are also easy to read.

My favorite movie is the Shawshank Redemption. When they play it on the TV networks, I never fail to sit and watch it.

A Conversation with Samuel Baumgardner-Kranz with the Sonoma County

Samuel Baumgardner-Kranz, Senior Engineer with Sonoma County

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

TSP2 is reaching out to local Agencies with the intent to better understand their bridge preservation needs and develop valuable tools that the Agencies can use. To reach this goal, TSP2 created the “Local Agency Outreach” National Working Group that is chaired by Gregg Freeman with KwikBond and Travis Kinney with David Evans and Associates.

The Working Group has already developed training modules on bridge preservation for local Agencies. The Group is also facilitating communication between local Agencies and the FHWA Bridge Preservation Expert Taskforce Group (BPETG) as well as the National Center for Pavement Preservation (NCPP). In addition, through the work of the “Local Agency Outreach” Working Group, local Agencies are getting an avenue to participate in the TSP2 Bridge Preservation regional meetings.

To learn about local Agencies and the challenges that they face addressing bridge preservation, I had an in-depth conversation with Samuel Baumgardner-Kranz, Senior Engineer with the Sonoma County in Northern California [https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/development-services/transportation-and-public-works/divisions/roads/services/bridges].

What are your main responsibilities with Sonoma County?

My role is primarily to oversee the bridge design group for our local Agency’s owned bridges. Sonoma County has 325 bridges in the National Bridge Inventory plus many other shorter structures. Generally, I work on the capital improvement design projects. I also assist our maintenance group with technical problems when it comes to bridge preservation. I serve as the subject matter specialist when it comes to transportation structures, which include retaining walls, bridges, and culverts.

Do you oversee a team at Sonoma County?

I personally oversee two staff primarily working with projects related to federally funded bridge replacement projects. On the maintenance end we have one full work crew, which is composed of four people. The crew is overseen by a construction engineer, who consults with me as we undertake bridge preservation activities.

How have you built your bridge preservation knowledge?

It can be a bit challenging to learn about bridge preservation. I’ve been trained since college with the purpose of learning about bridge design. Formal education is in fact primarily focused on new bridge design and there is not a lot of education out there for one to pursue concerning bridge preservation.

Manufacturers of preservation products often provide a very good source of learning. However, their information doesn’t always translate well in activities because of procurement requirements.

As I said before, I am always on the lookout for learning opportunities, but I personally haven’t found great single sources for building my knowledge about bridge preservation if you exclude the TSP2 web site. I often look for state Agency’s published knowledge and practices. Unfortunately, many of them keep that expertise internally.

You said that you get valuable information from the manufacturers, but then you can have issues with procurement. Can you explain?

In California you cannot just source a single product. To procure work or products, we need to set up a competitive bid, or issue a statement of public interested that says that no other product can provide a solution to the specific application pertaining to the project. In essence, we cannot choose to spend a lot of money with a single manufacturer without a competitive bid unless there is a very good reason to do it.  For example, this is the case of the crash barrier systems. Some counties only procure one manufacturer’s system, so as to make parts’ replacement and maintenance simpler and cheaper.

The solution that we prefer is when we have a general specification that can be fulfilled by multiple manufacturers, so that the work can be competitively bid. However, this solution does not really work for new, innovative products that have a few, or no, competitors. It is true that we can push a new product through and get it used even if it is single source, but the process is not easy and takes extra work to prove that it is a responsible and ethical use of public money.

Do you support the bridge preservation concept?

Bridge preservation is important first and foremost for the environment. Keeping bridges in service as long as you can instead of replacing them is a good environmental practice. It takes a lot of material, disposal, and carbon emissions to produce a new bridge, far less to preserve one.

There may be a few caveats to this preservation concept though. In our County, we have a lot of bridges over waterways. It is not unusual for these bridges to be designed with old practices that have negative features for fish passage, fish habitat, or other natural habitats. So, it can be a good solution to build new bridges that can have a restorative benefit for the natural habitat when the old bridges deteriorate to the point that they are suitable for replacement. Bridge replacement for habitat restoration is not usually something our transportation Agency will plan though. It can be considered as an added benefit when we plan the replacement of old bridges over waterways.

As I said before, generally speaking, the better environmental choice is to keep bridges in service for as long as possible rather than seeking to replace them.

Could you expand about the benefits of replacing old bridges that go over waterways?

Sometimes when the span isn’t long enough, it can constrict the channel. This constriction increases velocity of water on the downstream edge of the bridge, which causes an increase of foundation scour. Upstream, it impounds sediment, which changes the sediment load in the stream and effects the streambed and the water quality. All of this, in general, negatively impacts the natural habitat.

By replacing an under-length bridge with a new bridge that fully clears the channel and allows a natural waterway, we can improve the habitat of the species living within it as well as protect the foundations of the bridge in the long term. This is something we are focusing on in our bridge replacement projects and that has been found to be highly desirable by our various environmental protection Agencies like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and various others like the Army Corps of Engineers.

As an example, we are currently replacing a bridge whose span is about 40 feet long, while the natural channel requires a bridge about 200 feet long. There is a substantial buildup of sediment behind the bridge that has covered the natural riverbed, which is a fish spawning habitat, and has blocked water passage. We’re designing the geometrics of the new bridge to reduce this problem and improve the situation over the existing condition. The new bridge will not be impacted by the river, and vice-versa. In the end, bridge replacement can be a good environmental choice, even though, as I said before, in general it is better to keep the current bridges in place for as long as it can serve.

Could you speak of the bridge preservation activities that are currently implemented by Sonoma County?

We have limited funding available for bridge preservation activities, which are selected based on their value for the public. We consequently focus on actions that provide immediate safety, which is top priority, then drivability such as repair of barrier rails, deck cleaning, patching, and resurfacing.

We don’t have the funding or staff available to implement larger scale or more labor-intensive bridge preservation activities, such as bearing replacement and painting. Even a joint replacement project can be a challenge to get done because of lack of the funding availability.

Our political leaders are often calling on us to define a dollar value for a preservation work. Unfortunately, this is a quite difficult evaluation. It entails the financial quantification of the damage that will likely result over time from preservation work that does not get done. It is a challenge to quantify this potential damage in a way that can satisfying political leaders who are trying to make difficult financial decisions.

The truth is that unless there is an emergency situation, we do not get funding for major preservation work.

It is definitively easier to calculate the value of work that gets done rather than the potential damage that results from the work that is not done. Communicating the value of bridge preservation can be challenging.

If I can say to our political leaders that $10,000 spent today will save $100,000 down the line, then I would have a lot easier time making the argument and getting funding for bridge preservation. However, I have not found the tools that allows me to make that argument.

It is also not up to me to create such tools. I have limited expertise with bridge preservation and there are no other bridge specialists in my department. My staff is not formally trained in bridges or structures, but their expertise is in the federal aid procurement process. So, the only other sources of expertise I can rely on a day-to-day basis are colleagues outside of my department and consultants. However, consultants are typically trained in bridge replacement or new design rather than in bridge preservation.

I am not aware of AASHTO publications for bridge preservation. Having an authority providing guidance and standards about bridge preservation could be extremely helpful for local Agencies.

AASHTO released a bridge preservation guide in 2021. Are you familiar with it?

Yes, I am familiar with this guide. It is high level and does not actually provide practical information that I can take far.

What bridge preservation action do you do more frequently?

We do deck washing pretty regularly.

Having so many bridges over water, do you encounter any environmental issues with deck washing?

We do not have any environmental issue with deck washing, which is not different from rain washing off the bridge. We do not use any solvents, but we simply scrape the deck, sweep dirt and debris, and rinse the deck off. We do not always rinse the deck after cleaning.

We do not use salts in Sonoma County since we do not have snow and ice. We have just one bridge where it may snow every few years. So, our deck washing is just about making the deck drivable and keeping the drainage clean rather than implementing actions to prevent corrosion from de-icing salts.

You spoke earlier about lack of funding to implement bridge preservation activities regularly. Could you go more in-depth?

At Sonoma County we have local funding for small and basic preservation activities, as I mentioned earlier. To implement the more complex and expensive bridge preservation activities, our primary funding source relies on the FHWA funding, is administered through Caltrans. Federal Highways participates financially in bridge preservation activities as much as they have funding available. However, there is a cost associated with gaining access to federal funding. It involves complying with a number of reporting requirements, including compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). So, there is a certain threshold cost that we evaluate before we are willing to take on a federally funded project. Right now, our policy is that we’re not going to consider federal money for projects with a construction cost less than one million dollars. Our management is discussing whether we’re going to increase this threshold, since we are finding that even a one million-dollar project is no longer providing the additional value required to dedicate staff time.  We also consider the staff costs in order to manage compliance with federal standards, the impact schedules, and delays associated with federal funding procedures.

For example, we currently have a 24-bridge project where methacrylate is specified as deck treatment. The treatment is time-dependent since the methacrylate doesn’t work as effectively when cracks get too large. This will likely happen if the treatment is applied too late in the maintenance cycle, since cyclical traffic loading increases the size of cracks over time, if they are not properly treated. We have been prepared to bid this methacrylate project for about three years now. Unfortunately, the federal funding hasn’t been available, and so they haven’t authorized us to proceed with the methacrylate deck treatment. These are the kind of considerations that make taking federal money for bridge preservation actions less attractive.

When the Federal Highway is not meeting expectations, for whatever reason, such as staffing or funding availability, it can get incredibly challenging for our County to meet our obligation to implement a project. The issue becomes more complicated when standards for design and construction change or time-out during the delays. When this happens, we have to employ people to update the projects and then we have to reapply for additional funding to cover overages incurred to update the standards implemented during the delay. Then the project very likely gets delayed again while we wait for funding approval, which could trigger another update, review and wait cycle. Sometimes working on a federally funded project feels like being stuck in a hamster wheel. It can last forever since there are so many levels of approval, review, and funding procurement that happens with it. It seems as if everybody’s solution to these sorts of deadlock problems is to add another level of reporting and oversight which compounds the problem rather than solving it.

Another issue to be considered is the inconsistency of funding availability.  Now that the transportation bill, [the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – Ed Note], went through, there’s going to be more money available to California for transportation. At this point, we do not know how much money the State is going to make available to Local Agencies, but, for sure, it will be a one-time deal. Local Agencies will have to hire people to manage projects. However, it will be difficult to convince the board of supervisors that it’s justified to hire four or five more people for a source of funding that’s only going to last for limited number of years.

It’s not easy for Sonoma County to staff up and then reduce staffing after the need is gone. It takes staff to put the funding to good use since you cannot consult everything out. Even if we consult most of the technical work out, we still need people to manage the consultants and set their priorities. What we need is a permanent source of funding that allows hiring of permanent, expert staff, who can make the best use of the money.

I think that consistency of funding is a very important topic. It is evident that you cannot build a solid team based on temporary funding. Is this a reoccurring issue?

I have been personally dealing with the problem of consistency of funding to this day. A lot of my projects are legacies stemming from a funding influx after the great recession of 2008. The projects were authorized around 2012 when Sonoma County was offered funding and accepted it. Unfortunately, the County didn’t actually have the staff to properly manage and execute the projects, which consisted of almost 20 bridge replacements. With only two or three people available to work on the projects, the projects couldn’t progress individually as much they needed to per the federal funding requirements. This is despite the fact that the staff worked very hard, to the point of burnout. Several people quit due to overwork and frustration with the process. Over time, as Agencies were completing their projects, the funding source dried up while many projects were still in progress.

Our County ended up in a sort of a limbo that still lingers on. We are expected to deliver these replacement projects, but the funding sources are no longer there. I was hired and assigned staff to execute these backlog projects. Meanwhile, the County had to return a large amount of FHWA money from projects that failed to meet schedule requirements. And that’s again the consequence of one-time funding that did not make the County confident to keep enough staff on hand to manage the projects effectively. It is also the consequence of the fact that lower priority projects losing funding when others in the grant program go over budget.

Comparing with a number of local Agencies that I’m familiar with in California, Sonoma County is remarkably well staffed for bridges. I can think of only one other County that actually has a structural engineer with a background in bridges and transportation structures. I am privileged to have such background as well as a staff of two people, which, however, is still a small group for the scale of projects we manage. The expertise gap gets much wider when local Agencies are smaller than Sonoma County, such as cities with low population or lower population rural Counties. These local Agencies often have just one person who is doing both pavement and bridge preservation. Not having have in-house expertise of all preservation activities, these Agencies must rely on consultants that are hired on a project-by-project basis and supported by temporary funding. However, consultants are expensive, they lack local knowledge, and have the County’s best interest in mind only as far they are professionally obligated. There are pluses and minuses to consulting versus in-house expertise, but I think that the latter is always the desirable choice, when practicable.

Can you explain the process of giving money back because federal requirements were not met by the County?

It is not that Sonoma County had a pot of money and we gave that money back. We paid the consultants and specialists for the projects out of our own pocket. Then the County used the grant to reimburse the money that was spent. When some projects failed because they did not meet the federal schedule requirements, we had to pay back the money that was reimbursed, which was approximately three quarters of a million dollars. In our case, several contributing factors for not meeting schedule were outside of our control, and included delays from the Caltrans/FHWA oversite, who are also not appropriately staffed. Caltrans administers the program that allows Counties to receive grants from FHWA.

We failed to meet what is called the 10-year rule [CFR Title 23, § 630.112 (2), interpreted by FHWA Order 5020.1A – Ed Note]. Since we could not show substantial progress with the projects, the funding could not be extended. This is the way the highway program works for us. I must say that it was really painful to pay back the grant, which was money we spent on those projects. Accepting grant money actually ended up taking money away from our bridge program. We could have put that money to good use elsewhere.

So, at this point it may be challenging for your County to take on significant bridge projects.

Yes, it is unlikely that we’re going to take on much from the most recent transportation bill. As we discussed, we are still clearing out the backlog of projects that were initiated with funding from 2012. We are desperately fighting to meet our obligations so we do not to have to return more money. Most likely we will not start any projects as a result of new funding anytime soon. I am glad someone else is going to get the transportation bill funding so that they can start new projects and complete projects they have on hold.

It would be ideal if the transportation bill money could be used to fund existing programs, such as the Highway Bridge Program. However, it appears as if this money is dedicated to implement a new grant program, called the Bridge Investment Program. This may be frustrating for the local Agencies. It means that existing projects will not receive help, and the Counties will have to learn new grant rules to achieve funding in order to complete these projects.

You mentioned Caltrans. What is your relationship with Caltrans? Do you have any form of collaboration with them?

Caltrans has taken on the effort of inspecting every bridge in California in the national inventory. Therefore, they inspect all of our bridges, identify deficiencies and make recommendations for maintenance and repairs. This service is extremely valuable. We do not have in-house expertise or time for it.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, Caltrans has also been given delegated authority for federal grants by the Federal Highway Administration. Caltrans administers all the federal funding that comes to the State for the local Agencies and provides assistance to make sure that local Agencies meet the federal requirements. Caltrans also provides assistance in terms of procedures and manuals in order to meet these requirements. All of this is pretty helpful.

We also completely rely on the technical information published by Caltrans, such as amendments to the AASHTO LRFD Bridge Design Specification, seismic design manuals, construction manuals, and all sorts of bridge technical information. Caltrans is very good at bridge design, and we follow their lead.

For locally funded projects, however, we are on our own. Caltrans is not really interested in providing us with technical assistance for our bridges. I think that’s a fair stance since they have their own bridges, but more active technical help from them would be welcome.

What do you mean when you say “more active technical help” from Caltrans?

Caltrans does not provide any training to the County or, as policy, make staff available to take technical calls. I do have some relationship with Caltrans people that I use informally. However, if I have questions, such as how to approach a joint seal project or a bearing replacement, I am essentially on my own. I need to figure it out.

I am a bridge engineer who knows how to design new bridges but I don’t necessarily know how to set up plans and specifications for a bearing or a joint seal replacement, or something like that, so as to contract it out correctly. To do so, I must develop a skill set in standard practices for bridge preservation. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of places for me to develop that skill set. The County does not necessarily have the resources to pay someone to train me in that either, if such a training exists.

My counterpart who manages pavement preservation gets more attention, support, staff, and funding than what I get managing bridge preservation. This is because the benefits of pavement preservation are easily perceived by the public and elected leaders. Their results are obvious and immediate. Everybody likes riding on a smooth road. So, it is politically popular to spend money on pavement preservation, which, to be clear, is very important. On the other hand, the benefits of bridge preservation are more difficult perceive. Unless you have a major disaster, such as the collapse of a bridge, it is a lot harder to convince people to invest in bridge preservation. Nobody gets excited by joint seal replacements, except for me and the bridge maintenance crew.

In Minneapolis, where I live, there was a major bridge failure in 2007. It was a tragedy. Thirteen people died, and many more were injured. Bridge collapse must be avoided at any cost.

We’ve been fortunate in Sonoma County to have not had any bridge collapses, only minor bridge problems and safe failures. Recently we had to close a couple of bridges because there was a condition that posed an immediate threat to safety. Thankfully, we were able to identify this condition before it caused harm.

If there is an issue that keeps me up at night, it is the scour, since in our County there are some bridges for which the scour is critical. Scour problems are probably the hardest ones for me to approach. Whereas the required scour countermeasures are pretty simple, the approach to a scour countermeasure project is complex. For each bridge we must produce detailed planning and design work to receive permits from four Agencies, which are the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Water Boards. A lot of documentation is required by these Agencies to get permits. This effort is very staff intensive even though the actual amount of construction work is small. The professional costs can actually match the cost of construction.

It can take two months of my time to get a permit for scour measures for an individual bridge. It is evidently more cost effective for the County to put this time towards the very high dollar value of capital improvement projects for which I was hired. So, it is almost inevitable for me to put off scour work.

I presume that the permitting effort requires structural engineering knowledge but also knowledge of hydraulics and environmental issues. It does appear to be quite a complex work to me.

Yes, obtaining scour permits is a complex work indeed. In several instances we do not have in-house expertise to do the work, which includes hydraulics, geomorphology design, structural design and environmental studies. In these instances, we give the work out to consultants, provided we reach a certain minimum dollar value that makes the work worth bidding on.

As I have already said, the scour on some of our bridges is critical. This actually keeps me up at night since a lot of the bridge failures that I’m familiar with in California have been from scour. We have rain that comes only at certain times of the year and all at once, we have mountainous terrain and we have a lot of alluvial soils. In our State we have all those conditions that can cause scour, such as rain that comes only at certain times of the year and all at once, mountainous terrain and a lot of alluvial soils.

Recently, in our County, a Caltrans bridge over the Russian River failed quietly. Caltrans closed the bridge when the fire department noticed that it was leaning over a little bit more than normal. Caltrans assessed the bridge and they were able to close it before it collapsed or caused harm. The replacement bridge was built in a hurry. Not having the time to plan properly and do all the necessary hydraulic studies, the new bridge is now having scour problems. Working in an emergency situation with limited time is never the best practice. Scour is definitively a big problem here in California.

I think that climate change doesn’t help since it makes events more concentrated and dramatic. Do you see the impact of climate change on the bridges in Sonoma County?

My County has become famous for how heavily we have been impacted by the early effects of climate change. We’ve been on fire almost every year. We had huge, enormous wildfires that affected the bridges in many ways.

First, fires remove vegetation which controls erosion. This exacerbates the bridges’ scour issues.

Sometimes bridges actually burn. This can affect the strength of the concrete, which is really difficult to evaluate without taking cores and testing them. There is also the possibility that steel may have softened because of the heat, which can cause problems in the short and long term.

Falling trees are also a problem. When the root structure burns, trees can fall on bridges. This has happened a few times in our County.

Also, in order to fight these fires, we had particularly heavy equipment going over bridges that were not designed for that type of traffic, which was worrisome.

Wildfires driven by climate change are definitively a huge problem for our bridge system in Sonoma County. Safe, redundant crossings is important in our County because we never know when a route will become an evacuation one, or if a route will be cut off.

What are your goals with bridge preservation in the short and long term?

My vision for the short term is to make sure that everybody has at least one safe route to and from their destination. Sometimes a bridge is the only available way to destination. So, I want to make sure that if there’s no detour available, bridges stay open. That’s my short-term goal.

For the long term, I would love to see sufficiency ratings of my bridges go up. The ratings have been steadily dropping for Sonoma County and for the other local Agencies in California since the 1990s when funding available started to dry up. [Sufficiency ratings data for the National Bridge Inventory can be found in the FHWA LTBP Info Bridge website, see https://infobridge.fhwa.dot.gov/ Ed Note]. I am aware that reaching this long-term goal may be challenging. It may require convincing the public to fund bridge preservation, finding more sources of funding, or redirecting funding.

When sufficiency ratings go up, I can maintain bridges and keep them in service for longer, rather than having to replace them. One thing I’ve learned from my capital improvement projects is that our local communities love their bridges, even basic bridges that no one expects people to love. Replacements can upset the community. This is another reason for keeping bridges in service for as long as one possibly can.

The old design life for bridges was 50 years, the new design calls for 75 years. If I could keep bridges in service for 150 years, or indefinitely through maintenance, that would be awesome. This is my vision for the future.

Can you say something about you, such as your professional career and what you like to do in your free time?

I went to school for structural engineering focusing specifically on bridges and I am a licensed Structural Engineer in the state of California. Sonoma County is one of the very few Agencies that has a licensed Structural Engineer in their Transportation Department.

I have been practicing engineering for about ten years. In my early career I targeted inspection work and construction work because I wanted to learn the practical side of engineering. Later I joined a bridge design firm and spent a few years designing bridges, retaining walls, and culverts. When I found this opportunity with the County of Sonoma, I was fortunate to be selected. I’ve been with the County of Sonoma as the lead of their bridge division for four years now.

In my free time I like to garden, hike, build things, and play video games. Gardening, both vegetables and flowers, is perhaps my biggest hobby which I share with my wife.

You have been working on getting an additional Structural Engineering license. Have you achieved it?

Yes, I recently received a Structural Engineer license, which can be sought after gaining experience as a licensed Professional Engineer. A Structural Engineer license is required in California for certain life-safety critical infrastructure, such as schools, emergency shelters, police stations, and hospitals. I would argue that bridges are part of these structures even though State requirements do not necessarily agree with me.

Definitively, bridges are always on your mind.

I do love bridges, including bicycle and pedestrian bridges. I would like to see federal funding available for these types of bridges too. I think that increasing the number of pedestrian bridges and bike routes is an important step towards meeting climate change goals. It is surprisingly hard to get bike projects off the ground in our State. We cannot even add sidewalks or bike lanes on federally eligible bridges if the roadway approaching the bridge doesn’t have them. Without a doubt, we are very attached to our cars in California.

Are Expansion Joints The Culprits? – A Conversation with Debbie Steiger with Watson Bowman Acme

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Debbie Steiger at the TSP2 Outdoor Demo in Orlando

It is widely acknowledged that many bridge deterioration problems stem from the malfunctioning of the expansion joints. When these joints do not work properly, they can compromise the integrity of bridges over time and reducing their service life. To discuss bridge expansion joints, I spoke with Debbie Steiger, who developed her remarkable and successful career in the bridge sector. She is the National Sales Manager for the Bridge and Tunnel Sector with Watson Bowman Acme, a company that has been in the forefront of manufacturing and designing expansion joint systems for 70 years.

Can you highlight the pivotal points of your professional career?

I have a long tenure and a fulfilling career with Watson Bowman Acme. I joined the firm right out of college as a detailer drawing expansion joints in the engineering department. Even though I have an architectural engineering degree, my whole career has been on the civil side of the construction industry. Over the years, I was afforded career opportunities in both marketing and sales. I do like the fact that my career path has encompassed all three of these areas: engineering, marketing and sales. It has allowed me to have a wider perspective of the business and the industry.

There are two pivotal points in my career worth mentioning. The first one was when I took a position in sales and moved from New York State, where Watson Bowman Acme is based,  to California to run the West Coast bridge division of the company. It was definitely a sink or swim moment, both personally and from a career perspective. It was also probably one of the most exciting times to be involved in our industry. California was in the middle of rebuilding its infrastructures after it was hit by two major earthquakes, the Loma Prieta in 1989 and the Northridge in 1994. At the same time major design-build projects were just being adopted in the West Coast.  I had the opportunity of working on several high-profile design-build projects, such as the San Joaquin Corridor and the Eastern Transportation Corridor, both located in Southern California, and the Interstate 15 reconstruction in Utah for the Winter Olympics. It was a very fast paced and stimulating time.

Years later I ended up moving back to New York State.  As the market started shifting toward bridge maintenance and preservation, I was able to establish a focused market sector team for Watson Bowman Acme dedicated to the understanding of this new trend with the goal of taking advantage of the opportunities that it offered.  This is one of the accomplishments in my career I’m most proud of. This is also when my involvement with TSP2 really began as well.

Looking back at these two pivotal moments of my career, I see that there are strong similarities between them. In both cases I started from infancy, the West Coast territory and establishing a market sector focus for Watson Bowman Acme.  Fundamentally I am a strategist with the capacity of evaluating markets and creating paths for business growth.

When I started working for Watson Bowman Acme, I never had any intention of being in marketing and sales.  However, I accepted the opportunity I was offered that ended up broadening and enriching my career.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The part I enjoy the most is learning and understanding the overall market dynamics, steering the ship and setting the team up for success by growing the business and capitalizing on market opportunities.  I have the great honor of working with a team of very talented, capable and successful professionals.

Could you talk of your leadership style?

I like to lead my team by example. I favor clear communication and goal setting based on detailed and shared plans. Employee engagement and transparency are the major drivers of my leadership style.

In my experience, hiring the best employees with diverse experiences and proper skill sets is perhaps the most critical step of team building. I look for traits and backgrounds that would strengthen and fill any gaps within the team.  Ultimately, great teams lead to great results.

Definitively, I don’t like micromanaging and would rather let each person’s ingenuity shine.

You have a lot of knowledge and experience with expansion joints. How has the technology evolved over the last 10-15 years?

I continue to learn everyday but certainly I do have a good understanding of how the different bridge expansion joints function, the various types and movements that joint systems are capable of handling, criteria for proper joint selection and overall best practices in terms of installation.

The expansion joint technology has evolved over the years to match new, complex bridge design standards and movement challenges but also to address the demands of time constraints and constructability of smaller bridges and the needs for the joints’ systematic maintenance, repair and replacement.

Watson Bowman Acme has always focused on innovation. We have a strong commitment toward meeting the most challenging industry requirements by designing enhanced features for our structural systems and providing the ability of engineering custom joint system solutions for specific projects. We strive toward the use of new materials that allow more movement capabilities, reduce installation time and increase ease of installation, especially for small movement joints and joint repairs.

What do you mean by small movement joints?

Expansion joints are categorized by movement. Small movement bridge joint’s seals and systems are typically designed to accommodate movement of 4 inches or less. There are a variety of small movement joints being utilized today that are manufactured with new materials that go beyond the traditional neoprene and steel technology. The innovative armorless joints address issues of time constraints during installation, constructability, and allow spot repairs instead of full joint replacement.

On the other hand, large movement joints are commonly used throughout the industry to address movements exceeding 4 inches and must meet updated AASHTO LRFD design criteria that address the various loadings and degrees of movement.   System validation and testing is often required to determine whether a large movement expansion joint is suitable to a specific bridge structure.  Frequently these large movement joints require performance evaluation in case of a seismic event.

It is said that most bridge preservation problems entail the deck, and most deck problems entail the joints. Could you speak of what can go wrong with bridge expansion joints and why?

Bridge structures present a lot of challenges with regard to the design and installation of the expansion joints. There are many reasons for these challenges. Bridge deck expansion joints are subject to various types of impact, a significant range of movements, exposure to harsh environments, and, of course, construction time constraints. Most common joint failures entail leakage, seal adhesion, seal damage due to debris, detachment and failure of the joint header, metal deterioration, and, lastly, impact damage.

Design and maintenance requirements for bridge expansion joints are not always met for a variety of reasons. From a design perspective, many DOTs have standards that were issued years ago and have not been updated since. In many instances these standards do not take into consideration the actual field conditions. When it comes to maintenance, repair or replacement projects, field conditions, such as deteriorated concrete substrate, are particularly important and can be detrimental to the proper installation of expansion joints. Also, many of the repair projects are being performed under challenging outdoor working conditions at night, in order to minimize traffic interruption.

I must underscore that in most cases, bridge expansion joints are not expected to last through the anticipated life of the bridge structure, but only a fraction of it. In order to meet the expected service life, expansion joints must be inspected, maintained, repaired, and replaced on a regular basis.

I know that expansion joints can get a bad rap. I do not agree with it. Failure can be avoided with proper design and preservation practices. Avoiding failure starts by choosing the right joint based on the conditions of each particular bridge structure.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a proper joint system selection. It should take into consideration first and foremost the joint movement and the limitations that define each joint system. Especially in the maintenance side, I see that when someone has a preference for a particular joint system, that system is installed everywhere. However, it is evident that there’s not one system that’s going to work for all applications.

An important part of the joint system selection is the evaluation of a proper joint sizing. Gap opening must be correlated with the knowledge of the movement range and the temperature of placement. Most standards and plans refer to the mid-range even though contactors are installing at various times throughout the year where the gap can be different rom the mid-range. That’s where understanding field sizing becomes very important.

In conclusion, choosing the right joint system based on the field conditions of the bridge deck is a critical step in order to prevent joint failures. Then the long-term performance of a bridge expansion joint is also going to depend on the quality of the initial construction and the concrete substrate, the type and quality of the joint seal and the lifetime field maintenance program.

You laid out the essential requirements to achieve full functionality of bridge deck expansion joints and avoid failures.  Could you summarize them?

Sure. When it comes to bridge expansion joints there are four critical areas that are essential in order to reach the designed service life and sustain high overall performance. The first entails the deck evaluation and surface preparation. A full understanding of the existing conditions of the deck, whether there are underlying problems or not, is very important.  Only when problems are properly evaluated in advance to joint installation, the design engineer is able to recommend an appropriate system solution.  Unfortunately, in many instances unknowns are a given for a bridge structure. Also, surface preparation is often an overlooked area where shortcuts are taken. Using the best designed systems and the most advanced performing materials available in the market can be meaningless if there are underlying issues and the substrate has not been properly prepared. Definitively, proper deck evaluation and preparation are essential factors in order to reach, and potentially extend, the life expectancy of bridge expansion joints.

Secondly, a careful attention must be given to the expansion joint header, its installation and the materials used. Amplified loading due to impact, especially on the far side of the joint length, requires materials that will not crack and remain flexible over time.

Thirdly, the joint selection process and the installation must be performed accurately according to specifications and taking into account the manufacturers’ recommendations. The selection process must consider deck movement plus deck joint opening, temperature plus time of installation and then proper positioning and placement.  All these three aspects of the process are equally important.

Lastly an essential requirement to avoid joint failures consists in the adoption of proactive rather than reactive bridge preservation strategies. Implementation of proactive strategies includes routine inspections and maintenance checks for the life of the joint and also a full understanding the limitations of the selected joint system.

When you consider the overall cost of building a bridge, the cost of expansion joints is in most cases negligible. However, when it comes to maintaining a bridge over time, expansion joints play a pivotal role, since their failure could contribute significantly to reducing the life expectancy of the bridge structure.

Watson Bowman Acme has been a National Industry Member of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership for many years. Has the affiliation with TSP2 been beneficial to your company and to you?

I was excited when TSP2 came into place in 2011 championing a proactive approach toward the preservation of bridges. For the first-time, TSP2 brought together industry, owners, and academia, who started exchanging knowledge, ideas, information and sharing best practices.

I have to give a high five to Ed Welch and John Hooks, who have run the bridge preservation program for the last 10 years. They really should be commended for their effort in this area.

Bridge expansion joints always get attention at the regional and national meetings of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership and they are part of roundtable peer exchange discussions. Needless to say, Watson Bowman Acme was one of the first National Members of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership.

I was involved early on with TSP2 as an industry director for the Western Bridge Preservation Partnership (WBPP). I was also the chair of the team that worked on developing the Bridge Expansion Joint Pocket Guide through the FHWA Bridge Preservation Expert Task Group (BP-ETG). The Guide, which provides a state-of-the-art knowledge about bridge expansion joint, is currently in a draft phase. I worked closely with Ralph Dornsife of Washington DOT and Tony Brake of Caltrans on the draft Pocket Guide, which encompasses every type of joint systems, including both large, medium and small movements, as well as best practices based on movement criteria.   There have been a number of funded research studies on bridge joints through NCHRP. Certainly, the SCAN Team Report NCHRP Project 20 68A has taken center stage as a reference document. The AASHTO New Small Bridge Expansion Joints Guide that stems from NCHRP 12-100 is regarded as reference document for small joints.

Through the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership, I have also got involved with the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) programs, which provides a valuable opportunity to reach out to local and city county agencies. Definitively, being part of the TSP2 group has been beneficial to Watson Bowman Acme and to me personally.

Do you have any recommendations for the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership in order to increase the value that it provides to manufacturers like Watson Bowman Acme?

It would be great to have more contractors involved in the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership meetings along with different departments within the DOTs. I would love to see representatives from bridge design, construction, maintenance and materials at roundtables, sharing their perspectives and challenges. As an industry representative, I see a level of disconnection between the engineers who write policies, those who approve materials and technologies and those that oversee joint installations or the repair of joints.

I must underscore the importance of having contractors at the roundtables since they can certainly bring great depth to the discussion and awareness of problems. Awareness is the first step in fixing what isn’t working.

The outdoor demonstrations that are organized the National Meetings of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership provide a lot of valuable information to those who want to learn about best practices. The session that was organized at the last National Meeting that took place in Orlando in 2018 was outstanding from an industry perspective

Would you like to have outdoor demonstrations at the four annual Regional Partnership meetings of TSP2?

No, I am not advocating four demonstrations every year at each regional Bridge Preservation Partnership meeting of TSP2. I am satisfied with one outdoor demonstration session every four years at the National Meeting.  I was hoping to have the opportunity for the outdoor demonstration in 2022. However, the National Meeting, which brings together the four TSP2 Regional Partnerships, will not take place this year. I presume it was postponed due to the COVID pandemic.

Could you say a few words about things you enjoy doing in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

In my free time I love to garden. Whether ornamental or food, I find it satisfying and, at times, a good escape from the day’s challenges.

When the weather is nice, which is limited in Buffalo, NY, where I live, you will find me by the water. Buffalo is located on Lake Erie, which is a great place to find beach glass. I have jars of this washed-up treasure.

When time permits, I venture to the Finger Lakes region, which is about an hour and half from Buffalo. This region is famous for a number of elongated lakes that are surrounded by wineries. It is a wonderful place for boating and relaxation. I spend as much time there as possible.



Watson Bowman Acme https://www.watsonbowmanacme.com/

AASHTO LRFD    https://aashtojournal.org/2020/05/08/aashto-issues-updated-lrfd-bridge-design-guide/

BP-ETG https://tsp2bridge.pavementpreservation.org/technical/fhwa/bp-etg/

NCHRP Project 20 68A Scan Report 17-03 https://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/SCAN17-03-13updated.pdf

AASHTO’s New Small Bridge Expansion Joints Guide https://aashtojournal.org/2021/05/21/aashto-publishes-new-small-bridge-expansion-joints-guide/

LTAP https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/ltap/

A Conversation with Larry Galehouse, Founder of NCPP and TSP2

Larry Galehouse, founder of NCPP and TSP-2

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Larry Galehouse, the founder of the National Center for Pavement Preservation (NCPP) and the Transportation System Preservation Technical Service Program (TSP-2), has been a champion for infrastructure preservation throughout his career.

He worked for 29 years at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he developed specifications, guidelines and processes aimed at extending the service life of highway pavements.  In 1996, he was appointed by MDOT to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) original Lead State Team to share Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) technologies.  At that time, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin were the leading states for pavement preservation.  This appointment was the start of Larry Galehouse’s long-lasting collaboration with AASHTO.

In 2003, he founded NCPP based on a collaborative agreement between Michigan State University and the Foundation for Pavement Preservation (FP2).  This effort was funded by many donors within the pavement preservation industry, the FHWA Office of Asset Management, and the University.  Under the AASHTO umbrella, Larry was instrumental in establishing the TSP-2 program, which is administered by NCPP.  The goal of both TSP-2 branches, Pavement Preservation and Bridge Preservation, is to disseminate information to AASHTO member agencies for preserving their highway infrastructures.  It essentially serves as a clearinghouse for comprehensive and up-to-date information focusing on preservation measures that can extend the service life of highways and bridges.  TSP-2 is organized through separate regional partnerships that draw professionals from state DOTs, local agencies, private industries, consulting firms, academia and FHWA.

I spoke with Larry about a variety of issues, ranging from his current commitment with NCPP to his vision for the future of TSP-2 Bridge Preservation.

As a leader with NCPP and TSP-2, could you provide an overview of your current responsibilities with these organizations?

I am the founder and Director Emeritus of NCPP.  Since I stepped down as the Executive Director and relocated in my home state of Michigan from East Lansing to Traverse City, I have been working for the Center remotely, on a half-time basis. This has allowed me to remain involved in several activities that I enjoy.

During my tenure as Executive Director, I founded a number of Pavement Preservation Councils that are designed to serve local road agencies.  To date there are Pavement Preservation Councils in Florida, Georgia/Carolina, and Missouri. There is a growing interest to establish additional councils soon (see LINK).  Each Council has Director that helps organize its activities.

Currently, I am providing webinar trainings on pavement preservation to the Florida Pavement Preservation Council (FPPC – See LINK).  Webinars are given on the last Wednesday of every month. Last year there were over 2,000 attendees that registered for these webinars.  The training sessions are organized through the Florida Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) located at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Most recently, I have invited Brian Mintz with Phoscrete Corp. to organize a couple of bridge preservation webinars in collaboration with FPPC and Florida LTAP.  The webinars were very well received, and more should be offered in the future.

I am also providing webinar training to the Missouri Pavement Preservation Council on the third Tuesday of each month, and to the Georgia/Carolina Pavement Preservation Council on the second Tuesday of each month.  Once the COVID pandemic fades away, pavement preservation in-person trainings will be offered again.

In addition to the training, do you do any other activity for the Center?

I administer the AASHTO TSP-2 Emulsion Task Force (ETF – See LINK).  Prior to the formation of the ETF, there were no standard specifications that were nationally recognized for pavement preservation treatments.  The ETF has developed AASHTO approved material and design practices for a number of surface treatments, such as chip seal, micro-surfacing, tack coat, fog seal, slurry seal, scrub seal, sand seal, ultra-thin bonded wearing course, and cold mixes.  In addition, the ETF has developed construction guide specifications and quality assurance guide specifications for chip seals, slurry systems, and fog seals.  This is a herculean effort from an all-volunteer workforce that gathers 61 members representing experts from agencies, industry, and academia.

Last year, the NCPP was awarded the NCHRP Project 20-44(26) for implementing construction guide specifications for chip seals, micro surfacing, and fog seals.  I am the project PI (Ed Note: Principal Investigator) and Neal Galehouse, my son, the Co-PI.  The project’s goal is to develop and execute an implementation plan that creates awareness of the construction guides.  This effort includes outreach, training, and demonstration projects.  To date, 24 agencies have committed to at least one demonstration project using the new construction guide specifications.  The interest from the agencies has really exceeded our expectations.

What is your leadership style? What is important for you as a leader?

I treasure my employees and trust them to do their job properly.  I follow their progress and, if necessary, assist them to overcome any barriers they may encounter. I’ve always believed the leader sets the tone and should lead by example.

I don’t like micro-managing.  I am convinced that professional people should be able to do their job without interference.  Everybody can see the outstanding job that Ed Welch and John Hooks have done for TSP-2 Bridge Preservation. They are true professionals.  It was important to stay out of their way and let them express their full potential.

Can you speak of the evolution of NCPP and TSP-2 from the beginning to today?

The NCPP was founded in 2003 as a not-for-profit organization under the umbrella of Michigan State University. We began with seed money from the pavement preservation industry, Michigan State University, and the FHWA Office of Asset Management.  The initial money was spent in the necessary update of our office with new plumbing, drywall, paint, carpet, and furniture.  After that, we had to generate revenue on our own since NCPP is not funded by the University. Revenue was initially generated from contracts and training as it continues to this day. We also get an annual stipend from FP2.  Michigan State University provides the IT support network and covers utility expenses.

The concept of a preservation partnerships was hatched while I was with the Michigan Department of Transportation after the year 2000 final meeting of the AASHTO Lead State Teams.  At the end of that meeting, Roger Olson of Minnesota DOT, Keith Herbold of FHWA, and I met, brainstormed, and agreed that the best way to move pavement preservation forward would have been to regularly exchange ideas between agencies, industry, and academia.  It was in that instance that the idea of a partnership was born.

To verify whether this idea would have worked, a partnership meeting was planned in April 2001 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The meeting attendance from the DOTs and industry was beyond our expectations. There was tremendous enthusiasm to continue with more partnership meetings.

After forming NCPP, the first Midwestern Pavement Preservation Partnership meeting was held in 2004 in East Lansing, Michigan.  The meeting was an overwhelming success.

With help from Jim Sorenson of FHWA, a meeting was held with Ken Kobetsky of AASHTO to establish TSP-2 Pavement Preservation.  After approvals were received from the AASHTO Board of Directors, the program was launched in 2006 and TSP-2 annual pavement partnership meetings started in 2007.

Once the pavement preservation partnerships were rolling, discussions began to expand the program to bridge preservation. In 2010, the TSP-2 bridge preservation program was officially launched.  I met with Ed Welch, who proved to be the ideal professional to lead the bridge preservation effort.  Ed, who came from New Hampshire DOT, worked tirelessly along with Steve Varnedoe, who was director with North Carolina DOT, to establish the bridge preservation partnerships.  We owe both men our thanks for building the bridge preservation partnership into a successful program.  A few years later, John Hooks and Darlene Lane joined the NCPP staff to continue building on the success of the program.

NCPP and TSP-2 are intertwined so that the success of one depends on the success of the other. Our staff is dedicated to the success of both programs, which can be measured through technical exchanges, enthusiasm, and meaningful deliverables.

What is the role of industry in NCPP and TSP-2?

The success of NCPP and TSP-2 is reliant on industry support.  Industry plays a major role in providing technical expertise and delivering innovative products.  Obviously, there are organizational differences between the pavement preservation and bridge preservation industries.  The pavement preservation industry is represented by associations, such as ARRA, AEMA, and ISSA (Ed Note: See below under Acronyms), that when combined, provide a strong voice on technical and policy issues.  On the other hand, there is not a dedicated industry association for bridge preservation, even though I believe the bridge preservation industry has matured enough to be represented by their own association.  It’s crucial that the bridge preservation industry establish an association, thus having a place at the table and its voice heard on national transportation policy.  It is in the national interest to preserve both our roads and bridges.

What is at the core of TSP-2?

I would say that networking and getting to know your peers is at the core of TSP-2.  When agencies, industry, and academia work together, a synergy emerges that better defines common needs and identifies solutions.  The progress made by the TSP-2 partnerships to advance the state of practice has been tremendous.

Are the partnerships the driving force behind the success of TSP-2?

Absolutely!  Maybe we should say that people are the driving force behind the partnerships and the partnerships are behind the success of TSP-2.

What is the major accomplishment that these two organizations, NCPP and TSP-2, achieved under your leadership?

The major accomplishment was actually starting these two organizations.  Both NCPP and TSP-2 were established from scratch with a huge investment of my time and money.  I did not have a playbook, only a vision.

In the process of establishing the NCPP, it took time and effort to build a collaboration between Michigan State University, the Michigan Legislature, FP2 representing the pavement industry, and the FHWA Office of Asset Management.  In order to start the TSP-2 program, a pivotal role was played by the Subcommittee on Maintenance that provided a tremendous support and was instrumental in getting the program’s approval from the AASHTO Board of Directors.

Would it be correct to say that you acted as if you were launching a startup?

Establishing NCPP was similar to starting a small business. Running the Center is still a little frightening because you’re always going forwards or backwards. Things never stay the same.  It’s important to transition into an entrepreneur role by relentlessly looking at opportunities for growth.

In 2023, in a little more than one year, NCPP will celebrate 20 years from when it was established. I think this is a huge satisfaction for you.

Yes, I feel good about it and I’m very proud of what’s been accomplished.

What do you envision for the future of TSP-2 bridge preservation?

I envision a bright future for bridge preservation program. I say this based on the enthusiasm I can experience at the partnership meetings and on conference calls.

In the next future I think it is important for the bridge preservation community to develop national standards to establish a common reference between the different types of treatments and repairs that can be used by bridge practitioners.  This would require the development of treatment/repair specifications for materials, design procedures, construction guides, and quality assurance guides through the AASHTO approval process.

I also think it is important for the bridge preservation community to continue its outreach to local agencies.  Many local agencies lack the expertise required for preserving their bridge investments through timely and cost-effective treatments and repairs.  I believe the partnership members have made great strides by creating awareness among local agencies of the importance of bridge preservation.

Training is a significant aspect of the outreach effort to local agencies. I think that the partnership members can fill the knowledge gap by offering their time and expertise to teach local agencies.  The NCPP is able to provide PDH/CEU credit through Michigan State University to structured training courses offered through the partnerships.  Training courses should be reasonably priced, but not free.

When you speak of national standards, do you refer to something similar to the pocket guides that the FHWA Expert Task Force Group has developed for a number of bridge preservation activities, or do you have something else in mind?

It’s my understanding that the FHWA Pocket Guides are a series of notes and checklists for a specific treatment or repair.  These should not be confused with national standards.

There have been national standard specifications for the construction of highway bridges for many years, but very little is available for bridge preservation.  AASHTO is the body that sets standards for roads and bridges by approving and publishing specifications and construction guidelines.  The importance of standards cannot be overstated.  These are formal technical documents that establish uniform methods, processes, and practices.  Standards are written by a professional group of subject matter experts familiar with the technical field.

Who should lead the development of AASHTO standards for bridge preservation?

I believe expertise exists within the ranks of the TSP-2 Bridge Preservation Partnerships. Some members have significant knowledge and experience with certain treatments, while others possess expertise with alternative types of treatments.

Creating standard specifications for a bridge preservation treatment, such as bridge deck coating, includes the development of several standards, such as the material specification, the design practice specification, the construction guide specification, and the quality assurance specification.

The approval of a new standard specification by AASHTO is a long and laborious process that sometimes takes several years.  As soon as a specification is written, it goes through a series of reviews and resolution of reviewer comments until it is voted on for approval by the 50 states. A standard specification is approved if it receives 2/3 affirmative votes. Because of the strenuous approval process, AASHTO standards have considerable credibility.

Once AASHTO standard specifications for bridge preservation are available, states may choose to adopt a complete standard or incorporate portions of it in their state specifications.  In both cases, adopting an AASHTO standard establishes uniform engineering and technical criteria for methods, processes, and practices.

Bridge preservation standard specifications by AASHTO would definitively give a lot of credibility to the bridge preservation community.

Who should write the AASHTO national standard specifications for bridge preservation?

It should be a collaborative effort by experts from the bridge preservation community representing agencies, industry, consultants, and academia.  It’s critical that the drafting of standard specifications run smoothly.  To do so, I recommend appointing two champions, one from an agency and the other from the industry, who would be responsible for keeping the project on track.

Creating national standard specifications for bridge preservation would literally plant the flag for the work of future generations of bridge preservation practitioners.

Could you share something about your personal life? What you like to do in your free time? And what is your favorite book, and film?

I’m married with two grown sons and one grandson.  Obviously, family is an important part of my life. I thoroughly enjoy travel both domestically and internationally.  Whenever the time allows, I enjoy hunting, fishing, and boating.  I find the Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series books very interesting and educational.  The only movies that interest me are based on true stories.


Pavement Preservation Councils
Florida Pavement Preservation Council
Missouri Pavement Preservation Council
Georgia Carolina Pavement Preservation Council
AASHTO TSP2 Emulsion Task Force

ARRA (Asphalt Recycling and Reclaiming Association)
AEMA (Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association)
ISSA (International Slurry Surfacing Association)

A Conversation with Ferdinando Cannella

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Ferdinando Cannella, PhD, Head of the Industrial Robotic Unit at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology)

This post is dedicated to the innovative, robotic solutions for cleaning and inspection that were implemented in the new construction of the San Giorgio Bridge, in Genoa, Italy (see LINKS)

This major urban bridge (Pics. #1 and #2) replaced the Morandi Bridge over the Polcevera river that dramatically collapsed on August 14, 2018 taking the lives of 43 people. The new San Giorgio bridge, which was inaugurated on August 3, 2020 with the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, in attendance, was built in 13 months through a collective effort that encompassed the work of 330 companies and 1000+ people.

Pic #1: San Giorgio bridge at the Inauguration Day (from 105.net)

Pic #2: San Giorgio bridge at Night (from AdnKronos)

The architectural design of the San Gorgio Bridge is the work of the Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) design firm (see LINKS) based in Genoa, which is led by the renowned designer, Renzo Piano. Genoa is a major harbor on the Mediterranean Sea that gave birth to so many seamen, not to mention the likes of Christopher Columbus. Setting up an ideal connection between the bridge and the essential maritime character of the city of Genoa, Piano designed the box steel girder supporting the deck with a unique elliptical shape that resembles the keel of a ship. The girder, whose components were  built at different Italian shipyards, continuously spans for 1067 metres (3,501 ft) over 18 reinforced concrete piers. The continuity of the girder is allowed by an advanced bearing system that isolates the continuous girder from the piers and also protects the bridge against potential seismic activity.

Between the many outstanding qualities of Renzo Piano, there is his willingness to embrace the most advanced construction technologies. He has been known to speak of maintenance as an act of “care” toward bridges and buildings that ultimately make them last long. In the case of the San Giorgio Bridge, he combined his focus on advanced technologies and his emphasis on maintenance by envisioning the use of mobile robots permanently installed on the bridge deck. Renzo Piano discussed the idea with Roberto Cingolani, who was the Scientific Director of Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology – IIT) (see LINKS), also based in Genoa. Then the task of bringing Piano’s vision to fruition was taken by the Industrial Robotic Unit (IRU) of IIT, which is accustomed to working with industry.

I reached out to the Head of the IRU, Ferdinando Cannella. Not only did he create the robot for cleaning that was requested by Piano, so-called RoboWash, but he also ideated a second robot for performing inspections, named RobotInspection. Ferdinando (see LINKS) graduated in mechanical engineering from Marche Polytechnic University, has a PhD from Padua University in Mechanical Measurements and a second PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Marche Polytechnic University with the entire robotics program developed at King’s College in London, UK, under supervision of Prof. Jian Dai.

I had an extensive conversation with Ferdinando about the RoboWash and the RobotInspection. During the conversation I also learnt that we come from the same Marche region of Italy and, quite unexpectedly, graduated from the same Marche Polytechnic University.

Could you briefly describe the two robots, the RobotInspection and the RoboWash, that are installed on the San Giorgio bridge?

Both the RobotInspection and the RoboWash (Pic. #3) move longitudinally along the rails placed at the two sides of the deck making a total of four robots. The two robots look distinctively different from one another.

Pic #3: RobotInspection and RoboWash (from 105.net)

The RoboWash is a compact robot (Pics #4 and 5) designed for cleaning fully autonomously three glass surfaces: the wind barriers (on the two sides) and the solar panels (see Pic. #6). It weights approximately 2000 kg (4409 lbs.), which are distributed on 56 wheels. It is 3,5 meters (11 ft) tall, 8 meters (26 ft) long and consists of two parts, one for the actual cleaning and the other for energy recharging.

Pic #4: RoboWash: Brushes (from Camozzi)

Pic #5: RoboWash: Movement along the Rails (from WeBuild)

Pic #6: Photovoltaic Panels along the Edge of the Deck (from Arca International)

The RobotInspection is essentially a carbon fiber beam with a fixed section and a retractable one. When the retractable beam is fully elongated, the RobotInspection reaches 17 meters (56 ft) in length (Pic. #7). The robot weighs 2200 kg (4850 lbs.); it is 7-meters (23 ft) wide and is anchored to the rails with 56 wheels. Another 26 wheels are in place for moving the retractable beam. The robot moves at a rate of 100-150 mm/s (20-30 fpm) over the rails. This is the same speed as the RoboWash.

The RobotInspection was not envisaged by the designer of the bridge. It was actually my idea.  When I was told that the designer wanted to install a robot for washing the sound-barriers and the solar panels, I raised a question: “Why don’t we take advantage of the rails for RoboWash to add another moving robot that would inspect the bridge deck?” After some initial hesitance and a lot of work, that idea became reality.

Pic #7: Inspection Bot: Full Extension of the Retractable Beam (from italian.tech)

As reported in the bridge’s inspection manual, the RobotInspection is responsible for fully autonomously monitoring the exterior of the steel girder. This is the robot’s primacy compared to current robots in use. As an additional feature, this robot is also suitable for a semi-autonomous inspection of the bearings.

How does the RoboWash work?

This RoboWash removes dust and other contaminants from the glass surfaces of the two sides of the wind barrier and the photovoltaic panels that supply power to the RoboWash itself and to the bridge’s utility components, such as the dehumidifiers that are installed inside the steel box girder, in the proximity of the inspection catwalk.

The RoboWash is a self-sustained system that uses rain water and condensation water collected on the glass. The robot does not use any detergent, thus preventing the risk of chemical pollution of the Polcevera river due to runoff. If rain is scarce or condensation is low, the RoboWash uses a device similar to a fan to blow off the dust accumulated on the glass surfaces.

Who sets up the RoboWash to work?

The RoboWash is operated by the bridge personnel that starts and stops it. This robot does not have the capacity to start moving autonomously, based, for example, on sensors that monitor the weather conditions. It is the bridge personnel that must “tell” the robot to work when the bridge is free of  road hazards, collisions, maintenance work, high level winds and any other condition that can interfere with its routine. However, the RoboWash is embedded with sensors that monitor the level of transparency of the glass and the amount of water that is present on its surface. Through these parameters, the RoboWash can recognize the ideal conditions for cleaning the glass.

The RoboWash is programmed to operate only in the safest conditions. For example, in case of high winds exceeding 50 Km/hr. (31 mph), the robot automatically terminates its routine and returns to its parking area. The robot has also the capability of calculating the amount of energy needed to reach the next recharging station. The stations are spaced 200-meters (656 ft) apart from one another along the rails.

It might be of interest to know that the RoboWash is equipped with a system that keeps the robot at a consistent distance from the glass panels of the sound barriers as it rides on the rails. The robot has therefore the ability to compensate for geometrical misalignments that may occur over time because of structural settlements and/or temperature changes, and/or other causes.

Can you explain how the RobotInspection functions?

The fixed and retractable sections of the RobotInspection monitor the outer surface of the steel box girder, which has an elliptical shape, by taking approximately 20000 pictures over the 30.000 m2 (322,917 sq. ft) of outer surface of the girder.  The RobotInspection has the ability to take up to 25000 photos in a few days if weather and light permit.

The retractable beam is equipped with 3 cameras that have the capacity to scan the full outer surface of the steel girder (Pic #8). Scanning proceeds from the top level to the bottom level of the girder, which can only be reached when the retractable beam is fully extended. Essentially the RobotInspection works as a scanner taking photos of the outer surface of the steel box girder. Each photo covers a surface of approximately 1 m2 (11 sq. ft).

By analyzing the photos taken by the RobotInspection, bridge maintenance expert personnel can detect early signs of deterioration, such as paint flacking and/or steel corrosion. They can also examine the conditions of welding and connections. What sets this monitoring system apart from conventional inspection methods is the sheer amount of information collected and, even more importantly, the total objectivity of data. When photos are compared over time, there is total consistency of information due to the fact that photos are taken by the same equipment, at the same distance, and at the same angle. This level of data accuracy, consistency and repeatability cannot be achieved by drones or by inspections carried out by individuals, whose reporting always contains subjective elements of evaluation. Even if inspections are carried out by the same individual, this individual cannot guarantee that two or more reports will not be somehow affected by his, or her, subjectivity.

Pic #8: Cameras on the Retractable Beam of the RobotInspection (from Camozzi)

Does the RobotInspection have other functions in addition to scanning the outer bottom of the steel girder?

Yes, the RobotInspection can be equipped with an additional retractable beam that is connected to the retractable section of the main beam. The main beam is a huge structure (see Pic #9) that can carry up to 80 kg (176 lbs.) on its end. The additional beam has the ability of moving toward the surface of the steel girder to the point of touching it. It is designed to carry specialized instruments, such as 3D camera and ultrasound sensors that can provide in-depth information of steel imperfections. Ideally, in the future, the additional beam could also be equipped with instruments for painting and touching up.

The additional beam is designed to be used ad hoc. For example, if pictures taken by the main beam show 3 or 4 anomalies in the girder’s steel surface, then the owner has the capability of using the additional beam to evaluate these anomalies. If one of these anomalies remains questionable after the second inspection, then it is time to send an inspector. As a result, the robot has reduced the use of inspectors to a bare minimum, thus lowering costs and risks.

Pic #9: Size of the Transversal Beams of the RobotInspection (from Building CuE)

How frequently does the RobotInspection operate?

It is the bridge owner, ASPI (Ed. Note: ASPI is the largest Italian toll road operator, managing a network of 3000 km/1,864 miles in Italy) that decides on the frequency of use of the RobotInspection. Based on my knowledge, this robot operates from one to two times per year.

It takes a few days for the RobotInspection to complete the full inspection of the continuous girder. This time varies depending on weather conditions. The robot is equipped with sensors that stop its functioning in conditions of extreme weather, such as heavy rain or wind gusts of more than 15 meters/second (34 miles/hr.). The RobotInspection also stops working if the light is not sufficient to take pictures.  Having a memory, the robot resumes operating from where it stopped. This ability is also present in the RoboWash

How is data gathered by the RobotInspection processed and stored?

The large number of 2D pictures taken by the RobotInspection are sent in real time to the data base of the bridge’s Control Center, which is equipped with a custom-designed software that contains algorithms for data analysis and storage.

The RobotInspection is considered part of the monitoring system of the bridge, which also encompass more than 240 sensors that are embedded in the bridge structure and monitored by Seastema (see LINKS). These sensors include 70 inclinometers, 50 accelerometers, and 50 extensometers.

What can you say about the maintenance program for the RobotInspection?

It is part of the overall maintenance program for the bridge. In addition to ordinary maintenance, before the robot starts its round of inspections, the bridge operator must go through a check list, similar to what happens when an airplane takes off. The robots are parked in a dedicated area. Before they start operating, the bridge operator must reach this area and go through a check list, similar to what happens when an airplane takes off.

 Can you talk about main challenges encountered in the design and construction of the two robots?

There were many challenges for sure. First, the San Giorgio bridge is the replacement of a heavily trafficked urban bridge in Genoa. Due to the collapse of the previous bridge, transportation of goods going in and out the harbor of Genoa was delayed, trucks had to drive through villages and small towns, which created all sort of problems. The situation was not sustainable. It was essential to build the new bridge as soon as possible.  Time constraint was definitely a challenge that extended from the construction of the bridge to the construction of the robots.

We worked under a tight schedule, but also under the radar because everybody was paying attention to the construction of the San Giorgio bridge, at both local and national level.  The collapse of the Morandi bridge with its tragic loss of life was such a huge tragedy that propelled a strong emotional need among the Genoese people, and the Italians, to have a strictly monitored state-of-the-art bridge as a replacement.

Envisioning a new, innovative technology is always a major challenge. We did not have one single reference project for the design of the robots. To my knowledge there are no bridges worldwide that have autonomous robots permanently installed on the deck. Usually, robots are fixed elements that work in interior, protected environments. On the other hand, for this bridge we had to design robots that move constantly and work outside, in the open air, and therefore are subject to a variety of ambient conditions, such as rain, hail and wind. This technological invention was subsequently patented by IIT.

Even though this invention originated from the IRU group, IIT did not have the capability to build robots at Technological Readiness Level 8 (TEL8), which is the level required for  equipment installed in production plants. So, when we started designing the robots, we sought out companies whose specialties would have helped us.  A pivotal role was played by INNSE Berardi (Camozzi Group – Brescia, Italy) (see LINKS) that led the project, handled the design and construction of the control part of the robots, and also assembled and installed them. INNSE Berardi set up a mockup in their plant (see Pic #10) where we could test the robots before installation over the bridge.

In the design process, we took the key decision to start from the most critical component, which is the support for the robots, I mean the mechanism that allows the robots to move and stand. In order to face this challenge, we brought in a reputable partner in SDA Engineering from Padua, Italy (see LINKS), which is specialized in the construction of roller coasters. So, essentially, we ended up designing two roller coaster rails placed longitudinally along the two edges of the deck. In doing so, we were definitively helped by the fact that the girder has no joints and runs continuously from abutment to abutment.

The deck of the San Giorgio bridge can sway significantly under the high winds that frequently occur in Genoa. This was an additional challenge in the design of the robots and their measuring instruments.

As it would be expected, safety issues were given top priority in the design. Between the various safety measures, we equipped the four robots with sensors that make them stop immediately if they come in contact with somebody that, for whatever reason, enters the highly protected area where they operate. These features are called “Cognitive Mechatronics”, systems that provide the robots with the capability of making decisions, such as stopping a task depending on environmental conditions.

Finally, a considerable challenge entailed creating a dedicated code for the so-called secondary structure entailing the robots and implementing it within the Italian bridge construction code. This code does not encompass the presence of large moving objects that are permanently installed on a bridge. The bridge’s certification body had to work hard in order to create an appendix for the robots, as secondary structures to be included in the bridge construction code and within its safety requirements.

Pic. #10: Mockup at INNSE Berardi facilities for testing the robots before installing them on the San Giorgio Bridge – (From Camozzi)

You have spoken of Camozzi Group and SDA Engineering. Could you go through the entire team that worked on the robots’ project?

The robots are definitively the result of a team effort that involved people from several companies having cutting-edge knowledge and competence in their field.

In addition to Camozzi Group and SDA Engineering that I mentioned before, the team included UBISIVE (see LINKS) from Civitanova Marche that created the man-machine software interface, Marche Polytechnic University (see LINKS) that envisioned and developed the Artificial Intelligence applications, Valeri Vanni consulting (see LINKS) that was in charge of certification of conformity with the Italian bridge construction code and safety regulations.

Essential team members were also AMS – Advanced Mechanical Solutions (see LINKS) that designed the main retractable beam of the RobotInspection and Ingersoll (see LINKS), which is part of the Camozzi Group.

In cooperation with the University of South Carolina and VX Aerospace Corporation, Ingersoll built the RobotInspection’s beams in fiber reinforced polymer having the high-rigidity / low-weight ratio that was requested by the bridge designer. The beams are actually carbon fiber, aerospace-type structure. Ingersoll used a 3D equipment called MasterPrint 3X that allows programming, simulating, 3D printing and milling large composite parts in a single piece. This equipment reduced the overall lead time for the construction of the two RobotInspections from months to weeks, and played an essential role in shortening the construction schedule. From the U.S. the composite beams were air freighted to Milan, Italy.

We worked in a coordinated manner with the General Contractor, PerGenova consortium of two companies: Webuild (see LINKS) and Fincantieri Infrastructure (see LINKS), as well as with the structural designer, Italferr (see LINKS).

Can you provide any information about the costs of the project?

The IIT donated the concept and the design of the RobotInspection and the RoboWash  to the city of Genoa. The design entailed the work of 2 people over a period of 18 months. It is important to underscore that Renzo Piano also donated the design of the bridge to his native city of Genoa.


AMS – Advanced Mechanical Solutions – Robots: Design of the Retractable Arm for the RobotInspection
Fincantieri – Bridge Construction Contractor
Fincantieri – Seastema – Monitoring and supervision of all the utility infrastructure
Ingersoll (Camozzi Group) – Robots: Construction of the RobotInspection 
INNSE Berardi (Camozzi Group)
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology – IIT)
Italferr – Bridge  Engineering Design
Italian Institute of Technology
Renzo Piano Building Work (RPBW) – Bridge Architectural Design
SDA Engineering – Robots: Rail System
UBISIVE – Robots: Man-machine Software Interface 
Universita’ Politecnica Marche – Robots: Artificial Intelligence
Vanni Valeri Consulting – Robots: Consistency with Construction Code and Safety Regulations
Video: https://news.camozzi.com/projects/the-creation-process-of-the-robots-for-the-new-bridge-in-genoa.kl
WeBuild – Bridge Construction Contractor

A Conversation with Dale Mortensen, with Washington Rock Quarries

Dale Mortensen, National Sales Director with Armorstone

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

US industries are facing issues related to widespread worker shortage, material scarcity and supply chain delays. The bridge preservation industry also finds itself facing many of these same challenges.

To better understand the intricacies of these challenges, I spoke with Dale Mortensen, National Sales Director with Washington Rock Quarries, Inc., a company that has been involved with bridge preservation for over 10 years. Among the other products that they sell, Washington Rock supplies Armorstone, an aggregate that enhances friction surface for bridge deck overlays and road surfacing installations.

Dale runs the Armorstone division for Washington Rock Quarries and is responsible for all 50 US States. Dale, who graduated in 1999 with a business degree in Marketing from Utah State University, is fond of golf, mountain biking and the outdoors, an experience that he shares with his wife and five children.

At a recent TSP2 monthly conference call for the Western Bridge Preservation Partnership you spoke of the global supply crisis that has been affecting bridge deck overlay projects. Is this crisis also affecting the Armorstone products? Is it related to a particular type of aggregate, such as the bauxite? Or is the issue more complex?

It is definitively a more complex issue than the cost of the bauxite aggregate itself. During the call I said that there is a major transportation crisis in the aggregate industry. The cost for freight, both truck and rail, has increased so much that the price for aggregate has become secondary. Even if my company was able to keep the same price as last year for the products that I promote, contractors would still pay up to three times as much because of the increase in shipping costs. There are several reasons for this increase. The biggest one entails trucking. There is definitively a shortage of truck drivers. From what we were told by the trucking industry, in the last year and half over 100,000 truck drivers have either retired or left the industry. At first many truckers didn’t have enough work because of the COVID pandemic. As a result, they stopped working and got paid through unemployment. Now that the economy has reopened, many drivers have not come back to work. The shortage of truck drivers combined with the high demand for materials that we are experiencing post-COVID has brought trucking costs way up.

Shipping cost increase is not limited to trucking though. Since trucking is so congested, many companies have turned from trucks to rail thus making rail shipping also congested. Railways typically have their busy seasons between September and January, which is the time between the holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are telling us that they have as much business now as during the busy season and consequently, prices have soared. The bottom line is that our customers are calling us and asking why a transportation price quoted, for example, at $2,000 six months ago, is now doubled to $4,000.

Can you make an example of shipping cost increase related to your products?

We primarily use trucks for shipping in the West. We hardly ever ship anything other than full truckloads since shipping a partial load and a full load is about the same cost. As an example, last year we were quoted about $2,400 freight cost for shipping a full truckload of approximately 22,000 lbs. of aggregate material from Washington State to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This year we’re getting prices of approximately $4,700 for the same amount of material, route, and delivery location.

When we ship by rail, we use a rail car, which carries approximately 21 tons.  The price for rail cars has also increased substantially. We are seeing a transportation cost of $3,000 that we were quoted last year raised to $4,500 this year. Just as an example, the cost from Washington to Indiana, where we ship quite a lot of material, has gone from $3,200 last year to $4,700 this year.

How are your customers, the contractors, reacting to this cost increase?

I participated in the TSP2 call to respond to a request from one of my customers, a contractor, who wanted me to speak with the DOTs. Contractors are asking the DOTs to allow for a change order based on increased transportation costs. This will allow them to keep projects going. If the DOTs refuse to accept a cost readjustment and they want contractors to stick to the original contract price, contractors can end up losing money for bridge deck overlay and road projects because of shipping costs. Nobody could have foreseen this situation.

Is price increase also affecting international shipping?

Certainly, the shipping crisis is global. It is well known that the worldwide COVID pandemic has created the set of circumstances our industry is currently facing. Because of the pandemic many factories in China either shut down or drastically reduced their productivity, from 100% to as low as 20%. When running at 20%, these companies weren’t exporting as much, which reduced US market availability of many materials used in the construction industry. Moreover, the pandemic created a worldwide shortage of shipping containers. At first, China started exporting a large quantity of products related to protection from COVID, such as cleaning supplies, masks, and gloves. China shipped containers filled with these products all over the world, including countries where they had never shipped to on a regular basis, such as Australia, Panama, and New Zealand. The fact that these countries have limited export along with the need for ships to return to China quickly in order to deliver COVID protective equipment to other parts of the world, resulted in many containers staying in these countries and not returning to China. The bottom line is that we are experiencing a massive shortage of containers globally. As of now, there are simply not enough containers to ship to places.

Has this global shortage of containers affected your business?

It affected Washington Rock Quarries greatly. We weren’t able to get by container one of our key products, the bauxite, an aggregate that we don’t manufacture but we purchase from China. Due to the shortage of containers, the cost for shipping bauxite from China to the Port of Tacoma more than tripled. This has priced us out of the market.

In order find a different way to ship the bauxite, we ended up moving materials via barge. Unfortunately, the Port of Tacoma, where we normally import our bauxite to, doesn’t allow for barges to unload there. We had to ship to another state which resulted in more steps and increased costs. We want to get back to shipping to Washington via containers ASAP. However, we do not think this will be an option until late 2021

Due to the increased cost to move material by trucks and railway cars, in addition to the shortage of containers, you have been forced to increase the price of your materials to contractors. How are contractors reacting to the price increase?

As I mentioned earlier, contractors are asking the DOTs to revise costs of the projects that were bid prior to the pandemic. If prices are not revised, contractors are running the risk of losing money with these projects. When DOTs ask contractors to hold to their original quote, then contractors are coming back to us asking to cut prices. Unfortunately, we do not have enough wiggle room in our margins to make up the difference for these increased freight prices. As a matter of fact, we would prefer not to be involved with the shipping business altogether. We only provide transportation as a service to our customers.

Are you expecting the shipping crisis to end any time soon?

With the pandemic slowing down in certain parts of the world, the business is coming back very fast. A lot of material is currently being shipped from China and Taiwan. However, I do not see the recovery of the shipping side of the business coming back as fast. The large amount of materials that are being manufactured is actually worsening the shipping crisis. It is causing a huge backlog. There are not enough containers, or truck drivers, or railway cars to move materials.

An article published by the New York Times states that that we may end up experiencing some of these difficulties all the way into 2023 before seeing a correction in the market.

If this is true, what should manufacturers and contractors do to stay in business for 2 years with limited or no profit?

Looking forward to next year contractors will have to bid with the idea that costs could be much higher than they are now. Both manufacturers and contractors will have to include uncertainty into their price.

Concerning bridge deck overlay projects, this uncertainty is not limited to the aggregate that we supply but includes all the other components, such as equipment, supplies, parts and epoxy. It is an all-encompassing problem that affects all suppliers for bridge deck overlays, who provide materials and equipment.

Let me underscore that this current crisis is not limited to bridge deck overlays and the bridge preservation industry. There’s a shortage in almost every industry right now. It is even difficult to buy a new car since manufacturers are having problems getting computer chips. And this is just one of the many examples I can give.





From the New York Times:


A Conversation with Drew Storey, Account Executive at The Kercher Group

Drew and his family at a football game supporting Purdue

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Drew Storey has such an outgoing personality and extensive knowledge of many aspects of bridge preservation that speaking with him has always been a pleasant and instructive experience for me. I had the opportunity to talk again with Drew a few days ago for the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Blog. My conversation with him marks the restarting of my collaboration with TSP2 after almost one year of hiatus from the Blog.

Drew as a unique, multi-faceted perspective of bridge preservation that stems from a unique experience. After working over 10 years for Indiana DOT focusing on bridge preservation and maintenance, he then moved to the private sector, where he got a position as Account Executive for Bridges and Structures at The Kercher Group, a company specialized in infrastructure asset management. In parallel to this professional activity, he has been serving for several years as Council Member with City of Seymour in Indiana, where he lives. In this position he has been dealing with infrastructure plans and budget.

Could you speak of the motivations that are behind your professional career? What are the pivotal moments in your career path?

I did enjoy my time serving Indiana DOT. I worked under some very bright and motivating individuals, who gave me more than I bargained for and just enough rope to be dangerous. Their leeway allowed me to explore, develop, and innovate many state-of-the-art practices for bridge maintenance, preservation, and asset management. It wasn’t always easy though. Being the young underdog sometimes I failed, but, luckily, most of the times, I “failed forward”, as one of my supervisors used to say. This means that each time I failed I learned something new. Now I am able to reflect on those experiences and use them to make better decisions in my current position with The Kercher Group.

Just about 6 months after leaving Indiana DOT, I started to realize that my job with the DOT filled my cup with the sense of being a public servant. I guess I took it for granted that the work I was doing had an impact on so many people. I wanted to continue to serve the community. I joined a few non-profit organizations, began serving in my church in a much larger capacity, and later I decided to run for a City Council office in my hometown.

When I joined The Kercher Group two years ago, I was really excited with the opportunity to gain a different perspective on bridge preservation, to learn from this new experience, and to bring my knowledge to the table. I now frequently sit in meetings with customers that have never tackled the preservation work. I can take advantage of my past experience with Indiana DOT, lean back to it, and share my preservation expertise with them. I also bring to the table my typical work attitude, which is to get things done and not to fear trying new solutions.

Can you make an example of an innovative solution that you tried when you were working for Indiana DOT?

We were having a real hard time finding contractors that were willing, or even able, to remove drift piles. I had reached out to the preservation network and found out that up in the north-east they were using small floating rigs for this purpose. They put rigs in the water and sent out guys to pull out the drift. This solution however could not be applied to our region, where our big rivers have swift waters. It was simply something we could not do.

Then I learned that in the state of Louisiana they used cranes in order to remove the drift. I liked the idea of using a crane, but I needed something that was way more mobile than traditional cranes. So, I reached out to my colleagues that work on roadways, not necessarily on bridges. They were using wrecker companies with really large crane wreckers for installs of pipes, end sections, and even wall repairs. We came up with a way to procure their services for bridges, defined a plan of actions, and also partnered with Purdue University in order to capture time-lapse videos of how this was going to work.

We tested this solution in the field. We closed a bridge lane for a couple of hours, brought the crane wrecker in and removed a few logs. It worked really well. It was a good solution to the driftwood problem for Indiana DOT. And it was also good business for the wrecker companies that got new work that was outside of their traditional contract scope.

Wrecker companies were used to working on the highway, setting up in precarious situations and having to move very quickly. Their expertise matched our bridge needs of driftwood removal. This is an example of thinking out the box that allowed Indiana DOT to find a solution that was innovative, effective and safe.

Use of a Crane Wrecker to Remove Driift Logs

Earlier on you spoke of yourself at Indiana DOT as underdog. Why?

I mentioned being an underdog because I am not a professional engineer. I really had to climb the ladder. I recall being called out on jobs or into meetings, where oftentimes I was the only person that was not a licensed engineer. However, many times I was the guy they looked up to in order to get answers to problems.

I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t be licensed to be in bridge preservation and to do the work that we do. I am just saying that it is not necessary to have that license to be a good preservation practitioner.

You are a passionate supporter of bridge preservation. You have been involved with TSP2 bridge preservation from its beginning throughout the different steps of your career. How has bridge preservation evolved during the last 10 years?

I must say it has been such a thrill to see bridge preservation move from being a new, innovative idea to a mainstream component of any asset management plan.

When I started following the Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership, expert people, who were long in the tooth, were pushing a new effort toward bridge preservation. Today those folks are some of my most trusted advisors. I am happy to be one of those that continue supporting this effort, which has started showing significant progress.

Before TSP2 it was very difficult for me at Indiana DOT to find trusted advisors who could share their experience about using a product or a technology. This kind of service simply wasn’t available to me. After the Partnership I was able to count on a network of people who could support me from both the DOT and the industry side.

I must say that industry partners have embraced TSP2 bridge preservation and done such a nice job of retooling and providing enhanced access to training, guidance, and specifications, which make it easier for Agencies to spin up very quickly.

Industry partners are also a key part of TSP2 effort to reach out to Local Agencies, such as Cities, Counties and Municipalities. Through the Local Agency Outreach Committee, TSP2 is speaking to Local Agencies all across the country, underscoring the value of preservation and helping them make progress toward preservation. Ten years ago, we would have never dreamt that we would reach out to Local Agencies and find them so receptive and willing to move into preservation as quickly.

How has your perspective of bridge preservation changed from being a bridge preservation insider working for Indiana DOT to being involved with The Kercher Group?

This is a tough one to answer. I do not think that my perspective on bridge preservation has dramatically changed since I started working for The Kercher Group. I strive to continue seeing things through the lens of the Agencies and the eyes of the people who are closest to the struggle, since I believe these people make the best decisions. I put my old Indiana DOT hardhat on, you know the one with all the scratches, every time I can and I work to be a part of the client’s preservation team.

My role at The Kercher Group is to provide guidance to my clients, which is much like the role I served at Indiana DOT, where Districts and field staff leaned on me to get guidance or direction related to bridge maintenance and preservation issues.

My role is also to be a trusted advisor for the clients of The Kercher Group. In this role I help them develop skills that allows clients to manage problems on their own. I can say that I make a really good splash with an Agency when I teach their people to “fish on their own”. Here is where I feel as if my perspective may have changed slightly. From providing guidance at Indiana DOT, with The Kercher Group I have become a trusted advisor that helps Agencies develop new skills.

As I said before, I believe the best decisions are made by the people that are closest to the work. In Lean Six Sigma, we would call that “connecting with gemba”, “gemba” means “the place where value is created”. It is proved that these people can make the best decisions on how to solve problems in a long-lasting way.

What is your outlook of bridge preservation as a City Council Representative? From what I know, the Council deals with major projects and infrastructure improvements.

First, I would like to step away from focusing on bridges for a moment. Although my initial exposure to preservation was in bridges and culverts, I was able to expand my area of interest within Indiana DOT. With each promotion I got exposure to new types of assets, where true preservation practices were needed.

I like to find the root causes of problems by applying the “The 5 Whys” methodology. This is one of my favorite exercises. Most frequently, at the end of “The 5 Whys” analysis, it boils down to the fact that the owner does not have a good asset management plan.

While preservation at Indiana DOT has come a long way since when I was employed there, Local Agencies, like the City of Seymour, have struggled to put effective strategic preservation plans into place. Oftentimes, elected officials concentrate on major projects or on taking care of the worst ones first. People want to hear about these types of projects. Also, these projects make headlines which elected officials like to rally around. Unfortunately, preservation tends not to be all that headline worthy. At City of Seymour I try to reverse this trend and I do focus on changing culture. I help build and implement asset management plans that are dedicated to preservation, which is generally a very effective and sustainable practice. Being able to gear local policies toward effectiveness and sustainability is very rewarding for me as a public servant.

Based on your experience as a City Council Representative, is the general public aware of bridge preservation? If so, do they support bridge preservation policies?

I believe the general public hasn’t heard the word preservation enough to develop awareness. Neither people have seen their respective Local Agencies developing infrastructure policy around the preservation idea.

The general public has an expectation that Transportation Agencies will do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time, and want to be informed about it. As a result, I am seeing more and more Agencies providing a constant flow of information through their favorite media outlets, such as newspapers and social media. These outlets can be used for some powerful, pointed messaging. Agencies should capture communication opportunities in order to promote preservation, for example by showcasing good case studies where the positive impact of preservation can be emphasized.

While it is not the only way, communication is certainly an essential mean for giving the general public the transparency into decision making practices that are based on the preservation principles.

In your opinion what are the major challenges that bridge preservation may face in the next 5 years?

I was speaking to a couple university faculty members recently about their perspective on preservation. They were quick to point out their support for preservation and how they consider asset management planning as an essential element in order to implement preservation strategies. However, they were just as quick to describe how they have not necessarily designed curriculum around the idea of “taking care of what you have”. Without a dedicated curriculum, knowledge and understanding of preservation can only come from the work experience itself, as it was for me when I was employed by Indiana DOT. I do not envision that younger generations will be well prepared to hit the ground running with preservation. Thinking otherwise may be optimistic.

At Kercher we take preservation education seriously. I always enjoy watching new staff members hear the stories of how preservation and asset management have moved communities forward. Their light bulb quickly lights up when they do realize they have a group of preservation practitioners that are willing to guide them.

Could you share something about your personal life? How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite hobby?

Like many fellow preservation practitioners, I must say that my wife and kids get their fair share of bridge background photos while on vacation. All joking aside, I spend a fair amount of time trying to make other people happy. I own a DJ business where my wife and I coordinate and entertain guests at wedding and reception events. It has been a real joy being a big part of bride’s and groom’s Big Day for more than 18 years. The folks we serve often have large crowds. I find it very enjoyable to bring a few hundred people together on a dance floor.

Folks that know me are never surprised that I am so comfortable being the master of ceremonies of these events, or when I tell them I have been voted the best DJ in our area for many years. Being in a small town has its perks. One is that there’s not much competition in the DJ world, which might result in being named the best.

Do you have any links that you would like to share with the?

Just a few plugs for some things I am passionate about:

1. The Kercher Group has been such a great firm to work for and has really given me the opportunity to make an impact in a big way to Agencies across the country.

2. AASHTO Bridge Preservation Partnership has recently deployed its own LinkedIn page. This will be one way of staying connected to some of the best practitioners in the Agencies and in the industry. I look forward to meeting more folks there.

Chasing Bubbles, a documentary about the journey and the spirit of Alex Rust – From IMDB

The documentary “Chasing Bubbles” (see YouTube) is an inspirational story of a great friend of mine. Alex Rust, who graduated from Purdue University School of Engineering, decided to live a much different life than most. My hope is that his story of sailing around the world will push viewers to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest.

The documentary is also a true preservation story. Alex made it through the hardest challenges focusing on taking care of the small problems when they were still small. He could not afford to tackle major problems alone while in open water out in the ocean. One can say that he truly applied preservation and maintenance practices to his boat. He truly kept his boat in a good state during the long sailing journey.

A Conversation with Tim Woolery, Vice-President of ACT

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

There is always something new to learn when you speak with Tim Woolery, the Vice-President of Advanced Chemical Technologies (ACT) (see LINK) out of Oklahoma City, OK.  Tim has an extensive knowledge of protective sealers, both in the Lab and in the field. He is also very familiar with bridge preservation having been an active and enthusiastic member of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership since its beginning.

Could you speak of your career that led you to be the Vice-President of ACT?

About 10 years ago, after spending 30 years with a wood coating company specializing in solvent-based finishes, I was ready to move on and do something that would be more fun.

It happened that Kevin Brown, the owner of ACT, asked me to come on board and join the company. I remember saying something like this to him: “I want to attend a trade show, and, if it looks fun, then we will talk about your proposal”. So, I went to the NEBPP TSP2 bridge preservation meeting in Newport, RI. It was my very first experience with the TSP2 Partnership. After I got there and worked the show, I realized how committed the attendees were to bridge preservation. I also recognized the value of contributing to the maintenance and restoration of our country’s infrastructure. Definitively, the bridge preservation business looked like a worthwhile venture, something I would really enjoy getting into. That’s kind of how it started, from participating in a TSP2 show 8 years ago.

I went from materials for the protection of wood to materials for the protection of concrete. However, the fact that I had to deal with a completely different substrate, chemistry-wise it was an easy transition for me.

Are you involved with the design of chemical formulations and with new product development at ACT?

Yes, I love working on Lab projects, then moving to the field for trials and finally to a saleable product. When I was in the wood coating business, I ran the Laboratory for 11 years, also doing new product development.

Working on the formulation of new, innovative materials for ACT is one of my pleasures.  We developed silanes with corrosion inhibitors and we have just completed a new silane product that provides both oil and water repellency.

This new product, which is designed for parking garages, protects concrete floors from stains caused by oil drippings. Cars are always leaking oil thereby making a garage floor look bad, as if it has never been cleaned. Owners want to be able to clean the oil off by power washing. The new water and oil repellent silane product from ACT makes it possible. Oil drippings bead up instead of soaking in and flattening out and therefore they can be easily removed.

What are your responsibilities as the Vice-President of ACT?

In addition to helping with the Laboratory, I am responsible for ACT Customer Service and Sales. We have 7 independent representatives to promote our products around the country.

What are your core values as a leader of ACT? And what expectations do you have for your employees?

I can summarize my values in three words: participation, education and fun.

I grew up professionally in the culture of an employee-owned company, where everybody acts like an owner and participates in the business. To do so, it is essential that employees have the proper education. In other words,  they must be equipped with information that can allow them to make good decisions. I do not want my employees to ask me what the right decision is for them to make. I want my employees to be educated so that they can take good decisions on their own. This is also essential for their personal and professional growth.

If you participate in the business and have the necessary tools, work should be fun. If work is not fun and if you cannot work with enthusiasm, it is better to quit and choose a different job.

I expect that my employees at ATC be dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate about the business. I do not want them to be reactive, just answer the phone, do quotes, etc. I want them to know why they are doing what they do, have a knowledge, be proactive and really participate. When I am travelling, I do not worry about my phone ringing all the time. I have a great team of people who is able to step in for me and take care of the customers.

ACT offers a number of silane-based sealers for the protection of concrete and masonry. What are your most successful products for bridge preservation?

In 1976 ACT was the first importer of silane sealers in the USA. The company has been in the silane business out of Oklahoma since 1977. It was in Oklahoma in 1977 that, for the first time in the USA, silane sealers were used to protect a concrete bridge.

After many years, we have added epoxies healer-sealers, overlay systems and corrosion inhibitors to the product line. However, silane remains the core and most successful product of ACT.

I understand that ACT’s product offer has moved from the 40% to the 100% solid formulation for silane sealers. Why?

The reason why 40% reactive sealers were formulated depended on the fact that silanes used to be super-expensive. In the late 70s it was not even conceivable to sell silanes for $100 per gallon. Reducing the concentration to 40% made silanes more affordable. Today, with more silane producers around the world, it is possible to get the 100% reactive formulation at a reasonable price.

What are the challenges that ACT has encountered in promoting its products for bridge preservation? Do you have any advice for overcoming these challenges?

Probably the main challenge we have encountered entails the process of approving products in the Qualified Product List (QPL) or Approved Product List (APL) of the Departments of Transportation (DOT). The management of this process is complex. It also varies from State to State since each DOT is organized differently from another.

The process can also be expensive. For example, in 2019 a DOT required the NCHRP 244 Northern Exposure test in order to keep our product in the Approved Listing. All the other States use the Southern Exposure test. Nobody had really run the Northern Exposure test. So, we had to run an additional test that costed $8,000. If for whatever reason, we had not passed that test, we would have needed to run it again thus doubling the cost.

The DOT approval process is definitively a major challenge. The other challenge entails dealing with silane specifications that have not been written clearly or are too vague.

My advice is simply to have patience. You must solve one problem at a time.

What about do you think of inviting people who are in charge of DOT approvals at TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings?

It would be a good idea to invite the “Materials Division” engineers to the TSP2 meetings because ultimately these people decide which products can be used for bridge preservation.

Having the Material Division Engineers attending the breakout sessions together with Engineers form the Bridge Office and Bridge Maintenance Leadership would add great value to the conversations at TSP2 meetings.

In addition to bridge preservation, ACT is active in other sectors, such as parking garages and architecture.  Can you make a comparison between the challenges that you have encountered in these fields Vs bridge preservation?

Silane projects for parking garage floors are a sizeable part of our business. On the other hand, we are not overly strong in what we call the vertical architectural market. This is an area of opportunity that we are working on.

The use of a product in the DOT business is based on the approval of the product by the DOT and its inclusion in the QPL or APL, while in the parking garage and architectural business the product must be in the specifications. To do so, it is essential to pay a service, like MasterSpec, since architects download the specs from these portals. One cannot grow the business going to one architect at the time. It is too slow.

With parking garages, it is essential to be specified by consultants like Walker or Desman. If you can get them to put your product in the specs, then they send these specifications out to all their offices throughout the country. This is a good way to get business. Otherwise, as I said before, you have to be on those engines that the architects use for specs. If you are in, you have a chance to be specified. If you are not specified, it is really a hard time convincing a contractor to change the specifications.

How has the business changed for ACT during the recent months when we are copying with the COVID pandemic?

Not travelling has been the biggest change since the pandemic began. Typically, I travel two weeks every month, participating in conferences, training events, demonstrations and sales calls. So far this year I have not flown at all. However, I have driven to several states to work with county maintenance crews to help establish bridge preservation programs using silanes.

I also participated in my first Zoom presentation as a presenter for the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) conference. Even though I prefer speaking to a “live” audience, it turned out well and I had an opportunity to answer questions.

You are a member of the Innovation Technology Demonstration (ITD) TSP2 National Working Group.  Could you speak of the value that ITD brings to bridge preservation?

I think the ITD program is a great concept.  It represents a faster way to get new and innovative products adopted by the Departments of Transportations (DOTs).

One of the challenges I see with this program is that the ITD process goes from industry to DOTs, while it should be the opposite. DOTs should call industry asking for innovative products and services that meet their needs. Industry should respond to this call. Otherwise industry runs the risk of developing innovative solutions for what they perceive as major problems, which, however, may not be a concern for the DOTs.

I am not sure that all DOTs quite understand the concept of ITD. To facilitate this understanding, there should be more DOT representatives in the ITD Working Group team. I also think that ITD presentations at the TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings should be done by the DOTs involved with this program rather than by industry representatives. My concern is that ITD presentations can be perceived as “sales oriented” rather than presentations that focus on innovative “solutions” to DOT problems.

You have been participating in TSP2 Bridge Partnership meetings, both National and Regional, as a vendor for several years. Has ACT benefitted from your participation in these meetings and how?

It always boils down to people. When you come to these events you get to meet a number of bridge preservation people. You develop relationships that usually don’t happen across the desk at office meetings.  Even more important, you can gain the trust of the DOT people, who can appreciate your technical expertise, your willingness to participate in the meeting events and your commitment to bridge preservation.

I am a committed believer in the TSP2 program and in what this program is doing. I show my commitment by giving presentations, participating in the round tables and being available to share knowledge. Hopefully over the years people have come to recognize me as a resource to the bridge preservation community.

The participation in the TSP2 events has been truly beneficial to ACT’s growth. Before getting into this business, I did not know anything about bridges and what was done to maintain them. I have learned a lot and gotten a great education through the program.

Before getting into this business, I did not know anything about bridges and what was done to maintain them. I have learned a lot and gotten a great education through the program. TSP2 has been very valuable to me personally.

When TSP2 meetings are going to restart in 2021, what are your recommendations to vendors in order to take the maximum advantage from their participation?

I think that vendors who attend the TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings and sit at their booth all the time do not understand the value of these meetings. My advice is for the vendors to be active participants, sit at the conference and learn about the problems that DOTs have and the solutions they adopt. It is also important to participate in round-table discussions, hearing conversations and questions. Otherwise one does not get to know DOT’s concerns and needs. In summary, vendors have to get out of the booth, participate in meetings, and be a potential resource for the solutions to problems.

When I present silane sealers at TSP2 meetings, I position myself as a resource for the bridge preservation community. I never mention the commercial names of ACT products. I do sell my products but I share my knowledge and experience with the silane technology. If the silane technology becomes more widely adopted, it will be good for everybody in the industry, including ACT. Rising tide lifts all boats.

Can you share something about your personal life? How do you do like spending your free time?

I live in Oklahoma, so hunting and fishing have always been my spare time passion. Big game hunting and upland bird hunting keep me busy during the fall and winter months. In the summer I can be found at Lake Eufaula fishing and dragging grandkids on skis behind a boat.



Advanced Chemical Technologies (ACT)