A Conversation with Ed Welch with TSP2

Ed Welch with TSP2

Author: Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Ed Welch is the leading preservation engineer supporting the TSP2 bridge program at the National Center for Pavement Preservation (NCPP).  It is safe to say that his level of competence and the passion he has for his job are unmatchable.

Ed is active with the four Regional Bridge Preservation Partnerships, a task that also includes organizing and implementing the yearly TSP2 Regional Bridge Preservation Partnership Meetings as well as the National Conference that takes place every four years.  He participates in many National and Regional TSP2 Working Groups, and the monthly regional teleconferences.

Ed Welch evaluates and supports new initiatives and programs, always making available his knowledge and experience. Even more important, Ed facilitates communication, thus making it possible to create a multi-faceted dialogue between States, Agencies, Industry and Consultants. This dialogue is at the core of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation success story.

I spoke with Ed after the TSP2 National Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Could you introduce yourself? What is your background? Why did you decide to join TSP2? How did it happen?

I am a bridge preservation engineer at NCPP, the National Center for Pavement Preservation at Michigan State University that has a contract with AASHTO for managing TSP2 for both bridges and pavements.

After getting a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the New England College, I spent four years with HNT&B and then thirty-four years with the New Hampshire DOT.  Nine of those years were with bridge construction and twenty-five with bridge maintenance.

Back then I attended the Sub-Committee of Maintenance (SCOM). As the Bridge Maintenance Engineer for New Hampshire I was able to attend meetings in Alaska, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North, Dakota, Washington State, and New Hampshire, where we all learned about the value of networking and developing relationships from around the country. Wade Casey with FHWA, one of the relationships that I developed at the SCOM Meetings, recommended me to Larry Galehouse, NCPP Director, as a potential candidate for the new TSP2 bridge preservation position. The rest is basically history.

I have been supporting the TSP2 bridge preservation program for about eight years. It is a great experience. I have learned a lot from the continuous exchange of knowledge and bridge preservation experience between the States, and how eager all members of the Partnerships are to share and to learn. I am getting to know bridge preservation and asset management practitioners from States, Industry, and Academia from the entire country. It is very rewarding for me to get them together on the phone, on the computer, or face to face.

The National TSP2 Bridge Preservation Conference took place recently in Orlando. This is a pivotal meeting that occurs every four years. Was the Conference successful? Did TSP2 reach its goals? Is there anything that fell below expectations?

The 2018 National Conference was a very successful meeting. We had over six hundred attendees, more than sixty exhibiting companies, of which thirty-one took part in the outdoor demonstration.

Florida DOT was an exceptional hosting partner who truly supported the Conference. They sent forty-one attendees who did a lot of work behind the scenes focusing on IT and the outdoor demonstrations.

Eighty different presentations were made in three separate sessions. (Note: See Related Links for the presentations’ videos at the bottom of the post).  All the independent Committees reached the common goal of making the 2018 Conference a great meeting. They should be praised for the excellent job they did.

A questionnaire that was sent to all attendees at the end of the Conference received very positive feedback

What could we have done differently? For the first time we had an App for getting information about the Conference and facilitating networking. It made it easy to anticipate the Agenda and take early decisions about which of the three concurrently running sessions to attend. The App was received very well to the point that I think we should have promoted it sooner.

How was the 2018 TSP2 National Bridge Preservation Conference different from the 2014 Conference that also took place in Orlando? What changed in these four years?

Compared to 2014, in 2018 we had much more interaction between the four Partnerships as well as between the States and Industry.

During the Working Group sessions, representatives from each Partnership were able to discuss what is being done, and also to open these discussions with other Partnerships and Industry representatives.  Key accomplishments reached by both the Regional and National Working Groups were shared among all participants.

At the 2018 Conference we also took the opportunity to highlight key presentations that were made over the last three years at the Regional Partnership meetings. Each of the Partnerships wanted to bring in these presentations so as to share them at national level. The four presentations were:

  • “MnDOT Bridge Maintenance Training for State and Local Agencies” by Sarah Sondag with Minnesota DOT (MWBPP);
  • “It’s Flooding Down in Texas – Lessons Learned from Seven Mass Flood Events” by Graham Bettis with Texas DOT (SEBPP);
  • “Preservation of Bridge Retaining Walls” by Ben Foster with Maine DOT (NEBPP);
  • “A Preservation Contractor’s Perspective: The Good and the Bad” by Kurt Clink with Truesdell Corporation (WBPP).

Is TSP2 planning to organize a third National Bridge Preservation Conference in 2022? Is TSP2 considering shortening the time between the National Conference meetings from four to two? Will the four Regional TSP2 Bridge Preservation Meetings remain in place in 2019, 2020 and 2021?

The next National Bridge Preservation Conference will take place in 2022.  We are looking for a host State, who can perform as well as Florida did for the two Conferences in 2014 and 2018.

We are not going to shorten the time between the National Conferences from four to two years because we want to have continuity at a regional level and make sure that the Regional Partnerships maintain a bridge preservation perspective. As an example, representatives from the Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership who participated in the National Conference in Orlando in April 2018, will not meet again until October 2019, when the Regional Partnership Meeting is scheduled to take place in Bismarck, North Dakota. A year and a half between the two gatherings is quite a long time for the Midwestern bridge preservation representatives.

We want to have the Regional Partnership meetings on a regular basis since they are so valuable and popular.  We will therefore continue to have a Regional Meeting for each Partnership every year for three years in a row before organizing the National Conference.  This scheme has worked well so far for both the pavement and the bridge side.

Could you outline key programs for TSP2 Bridge Preservation, beyond organizing the Regional Partnership Meetings and the National Conferences?

The ongoing work of the Regional and National Working Groups is a crucial element of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation program.

National Working Groups address issues that are important to the four Regional Partnerships, who should always have a representative participating in the Groups. In most cases the National Working Groups have been created because a particular topic was already discussed at several of the Regional Working Groups. This happened, as an example, with the National Coating Working Group. There were already Working Groups focusing on coatings in the Regions, so it made sense to combine these Working Groups and generate a national effort.

We currently have five National Working Groups. These are the “Bridge Management System (BMS)”, the “Industry Technology Demonstration (ITD) Program”, the “Social Media Program”, the “Bridge Deck Preservation” and  the “Bridge Preservation Coatings” that I have just mentioned.

Additional National Working Groups have been proposed and are being considered.

As far as Regional Working Groups, the Midwest Partnership has four groups: “Outreach to Local Agencies”; “Systematic Preventive Maintenance (SPM)”; “Preservation Matrix” and “Deterioration Modeling”.

There are four Regional Working Groups in the Northeast Partnership: “Scour Working Group”; “Beam End Treatments”; “Bridge Washing” and “Research”.

The South-East Partnership has three Regional Working Groups: “Bridge Preservation Performance Measures”, Website Development and “Structural Health Monitoring”

There are four Working Groups in the Western Partnership: “Bridge Preservation Activities Matrix”, the “Quantifying a Systematic Preventive Maintenance Program”; “Research” and “Asset Management”.

As I said before, when the Regional Working Groups develop and find commonalities, they can evolve into National Working Groups.

A crucial part of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation program also entails promoting bridge preservation awareness to Local Agencies across the nation, such as Cities, Towns, and Counties. There is a lot going on as far as Local Agencies getting involved in bridge preservation. This should be of no surprise since Local Agencies own more than 50% of the bridges in the nation. It is therefore essential that Local Agencies be trained to properly maintain and preserve their bridges.

Three different initiatives have currently been put in place in order to improve Local Agencies’ involvement with bridge preservation policies and practices. The first entails the creation of a discussion group that focuses on networking with the objective to promote calls and meetings between States and Local Agencies. The second initiative involves the Western Regional Partnership that has established a Working Group about communicating the value of bridge preservation (Note: See Related Links about this Working Group at the bottom of the post). The Working Group is putting together modules for short presentations at Local Agencies and is looking for volunteers. The third initiative consists in the TSP2 Bridge Preservation training for Local Agencies that has been developed at NCPP. If a State is interested in gathering Local Agencies, NCPP@MSU can do half or full day bridge preservation training for them. We have an “a la carte” agenda where States and Local Agencies can pick and choose what they want to hear depending on their needs and capabilities.

It is likely that a National Working Group will be soon established about promoting bridge preservation to Local Agencies. FHWA has also an initiative in place focusing on Local Agencies to promote the value of bridge preservation.

All initiatives related to Local Agencies cannot use State’s funds contributed to the AASHTO TSP2 Program. While we must be careful regarding the extent of funding for these initiatives, there are remedial needs that the Partnerships can assist Local Agencies with.

Seasoned bridge preservation engineers, Pete Weykamp, retired from NYSDOT and John Buxton, retired from Maine DOT, are NCPP trainers. Since I have done some training myself, we currently have three bridge preservation engineers who can do the training for Local Agencies. We have already carried out training in several States and we are seeing more and more interest toward such training.

What is your vision for TSP2 Bridge Preservation?

I envision that the concept of bridge preservation will be fully understood and embraced by our bridge preservation community, and, at a different level, by the public. For this reason, the social media program is very important for TSP2. We certainly have a lot of room for bridge preservation to expand and social media is an excellent avenue to follow.

A correctly implemented bridge preservation policy can have a significant financial impact on our nation. This is the core message promoted by TSP2. Bridge preservation frees financial resources since it is certainly more economical to work on bridges in good or fair condition rather than on deteriorated bridges. In other words, Bridge Preservation is good for the economy.

The life of a bridge can be extended with a minimum cost if the right preservation action is taken at the right time. By doing so, States can focus more funds and resources on those bridges that are beyond restoration and need to have major rehabs or to be replaced.

Keeping most of bridges in “fair” condition appears to be a good means of managing our bridge assets. It is evident that we cannot keep all the bridges in “good” condition. This is sometimes a tough concept to accept. However, it is the reality. To have all bridges in good condition and to get there by only replacing the worst bridges cannot be regarded as a sustainable goal.

As I explained before, I envision a constant, gradual growth in the adoption of bridge preservations policies by the Local Agencies.

I would also envision our TSP2 Bridge Preservation representatives reaching out to representatives from other countries, especially Canada.

 

Related Links

TSP2 – Bridges:

https://tsp2bridge.pavementpreservation.org/

Videos of presentations at the 2018 Conference in Orlando:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnZiyLpQpiSergiRVkuVf6ljoRLjYhUKV

Working Group about communicating the value of bridge preservation established by the Western Regional Partnership:
https://tsp2bridge.pavementpreservation.org/western-wbpp/action-committees/.

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