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.

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