A Conversation with Nancy Huether Transportation Engineer with North Dakota Department of Transportation
Author: Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC
At the recent TSP2 MWBPP meeting in Milwaukee I met Nancy Huether, Transportation Engineer with the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT), who is the chair of the TSP2 Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership Board of Directors. I had a chance to speak with Nancy about bridge preservation strategies and implementation challenges in her state.
What does bridge preservation entail at NDDOT?
The bridge preservation program at NDDOT is still being defined. It is a given that focusing on bridge maintenance is one of our main goals. However, bridge preservation should be considered during all phases of the life of a bridge from conscientious design and construction to timely rehabilitation.
I believe strongly that bridge preservation starts with design and construction, which are critical elements in making sure we have good bridges and we can maintain them. In other words, it is challenging to maintain bridges if they are not designed properly or constructed according to specifications.
I understand the design part. Could you tell me more about the construction aspect? Do you mean choosing the right materials and applying them correctly?
Yes, proper construction is very important. For example, when placing concrete it is important to consider ambient conditions such as temperature, wind, and humidity. Proper curing is also a critical component in ensuring long-lasting well-performing concrete.
I would like to reinforce the concept that preservation entails more than just maintenance. Construction plays a big part and cannot be overlooked.
Could you also speak of the design part?
Using design methods that minimize maintenance is critical. For example, the bridge division has been designing bridges for many years with integral abutments that minimize or eliminate the need for joints and the maintenance headaches that come along with them.
I understand that you have been in your new bridge preservation management position for about one year. Can you speak of this appointment?
I am a Registered Professional Engineer in the Bridge Division. Just over a year ago, I was tasked with switching from the Hydraulics Section to the Structure Management Section to start a bridge preservation program.
Prior to my appointment, the NDDOT had no formal bridge preservation program. That is not to say preservation concepts were not understood and considered, but there was no formal program. Bridge Preservation only entailed the Bridge Maintenance section that was added to the Maintenance Operations Manual in 2008. This section, which was developed with the help of Bridge and District employees, laid out maintenance tasks and a schedule for completing those tasks.
What is your role with the Districts?
I do not supervise the implementation of bridge preservation in the eight Districts of the NDDOT. My role is to support the Districts in their efforts by assisting with requests for education or by providing information about bridge preservation materials and procedures.
Encouraging Districts to focus more on bridge preservation activity and understand its value is one of my main goals. For this reason, as soon as I got the new bridge preservation assignment, I went to visit each District and learn about what they were doing. The amount of bridge preventative maintenance being done in the eight Districts varied from a lot to very little. The NDDOT is fortunate to have very capable maintenance personnel and I am confident that with additional support they can do much more.
What have you done so far?
I am in the process of developing the bridge preservation program. The first step of the program, which is nearly complete, is updating the Bridge Maintenance section of the Maintenance Operations Manual with current materials and best practices. We want to give more value to the Manual and see bridge maintenance operations more fully adopted by all the Districts.
The second step of the program entails finalizing a bridge preservation strategy that will eventually include not only maintenance, but also design, construction, and rehabilitation.
What is the major challenge that you are facing?
One major challenge involves getting more of the District personnel to better understand the benefits and importance of bridge preservation. Since the NDDOT does not have dedicated bridge maintenance crews, bridge maintenance is only one of the many maintenance tasks the District Maintenance Sections are responsible for completing.
The bridges in North Dakota are in fairly good condition. However, sometimes when bridges are in need of repair, maintenance is deferred until small problems become bigger problems and contractors are called on to do the work. This is a reactive mode of action. Embracing the preservation concept means focusing on preventative maintenance and taking care of small problems before they become big problems. Increasing the awareness and benefits of pro-active maintenance will help us keep our good bridges good.
Do you have a bridge preservation success story you would like to share with the readers?
Yes, it is about the pro-active actions taken by one of our Districts. Approximately two years ago a District employee who has always had a keen interest in bridge preservation, was put in charge of maintenance for that District, where little bridge preventative maintenance had previously been done.
Under the guidance of this employee, the District has implemented a bridge deck preservation program that includes sweeping and washing the deck, sealing cracks with epoxy, and applying a silane surface treatment.
Although prescribed in the Maintenance Operations Manual, silane sealers had never before been applied by NDDOT maintenance crews.
The District developed the silane surface treatment application equipment and process on its own. It encompassed designing, assembling, and calibrating the spray equipment including spray bar, nozzles, tractor, pump and tank. They successfully treated several bridge decks this year.
At what time do you apply silane sealers as a bridge deck protection?
We apply the silane deck surface treatment as part of the initial construction, as soon as the bridge deck is completed and the concrete is cured. In doing so, the application becomes part of the design and the construction project. We then prescribe the reapplication on a 6 year cycle.
Could you talk of your goals for 2017 and the upcoming years?
I have two main goals. The first is to assist our maintenance forces to continue taking initiatives and doing new maintenance activities in line with pro-active bridge preservation. My role is to support them with information about products, processes, training, tracking, and any other areas needed, to the best of my ability. This support, combined with their extensive knowledge and field experience, will help us achieve this goal.
My second goal is to get NDDOT bridge preservation program well documented, funded, and solidified. The program will define the overall purpose of bridge preservation and outline key elements such as objectives, performance measures, and goals that support the NDDOT Strategic Business Plan. This program will also define a systematic approach to project selection and provide guidance for appropriate preservation strategies. A well-defined bridge preservation program is important in cost effectively managing and preserving the NDDOT’s bridges.
Can TSP2 help NDDOT reach its goals? Is there more that TSP2 can do for you?
TSP2 continues to play a significant role in developing our bridge preservation program. I regularly use the information that is available on their web site.
TSP2 Regional and National Partnership Meetings are also of great value. They have given me, as well as others at the NDDOT, the opportunity to make connections with bridge preservation experts at other State DOTs, as well as with industry members, consulting engineers and contractors.
It is truly invaluable to be able to talk to people in other states about what they are doing and what has worked in solving specific bridge preservation problems. Thanks to TSP2 and the bridge partnerships, I have a large group of knowledgeable peers I can reach out to when questions or issues arise. I can send one e-mail and receive 20 replies.
There is always something more that can be done. My hope is that TSP2 continues to strengthen its role as collector of information. The TSP2 web site should be the first place people can go to find information, research, and publications about bridge preservation.