Highway bridges come in a wide range of heights, widths, and lengths as well as a broad variety of construction designs. All of which means that inspecting them presents different challenges and equipment needs.
But the single most important aspect of facilitating highway bridge inspections is access.
Simply put, the need for placing an inspection team at any location on – or under – a bridge can require specialized equipment. Because bridge inspections don’t begin and end on the bridge deck!
Gaining Access on Highway Bridges: Over, Down, and Under
Inspecting highway bridges is a mandatory and ongoing obligation of state DOTs and others and there is a wide variety of specialized equipment used to facilitate the bridge inspection process. In addition to the various tools and high tech equipment utilized in the inspections themselves, other types of equipment are needed for gaining access to all parts of a bridge structure.
And this includes the regions alongside and underneath a highway bridge deck. These areas must also be made accessible to engineers and others. But often, safely reaching and working in those areas can be challenging.
This is partly because many highway bridges span hundreds of feet above the ground or bodies of water. These heights eliminate any possibility of accessing the bridge structure from ground or water. Which means that almost all under bridge access usually must be accomplished from the bridge deck.
So, how is this typically accomplished?
Traditionally, gaining access to the regions below a bridge deck railing and up underneath the bridge deck itself involved the use of hanging scaffolding or even rope rigging methods that suspended workers from the side or underneath a bridge. And these methods and equipment are still used today in some cases.
However, for most bridge projects, whether that’s inspections, maintenance, or repair work, the use of specialized bucket trucks, boom lifts, and under bridge platforms are used.
But technology and innovation never rests.
Trends in Bridge Inspection Access Methods
While all of the existing technologies for under bridge access – scaffolding, rope rigging methods, and under bridge platforms – have and continue to undergo innovations and advances in design, new technologies have also entered the realm of bridge inspection work.
For example, the rise of drones in assisting bridge inspections.
Their ability to quickly, easily, and affordably, access hard-to-reach superstructure sections has made them an increasingly sought after option for many bridge inspectors for use in their initial reconnaissance and planning efforts.
As one article explains,
“Bridge drones are typically equipped with HD cameras and proximity sensors to provide high-quality and detailed images which engineers can use to identify defects, wear, and potential access concerns. The increasing use of drones has added additional technologies to their output, including the use of analytics, artificial intelligence, and 3-D imaging that can show cracks, spalls, wear, delamination, and rust.”
Nonetheless, as attractive as drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), might be for an alternative to large truck or tractor mounted under bridge platforms, they still fall short. As the article goes on to note,
“Though their use does not satisfy the hands-on requirement of fracture critical inspections, their use in planning and gathering data on intermittent inspections saves time and provides additional data. They’re also helpful to inspect bridges quickly for defects after natural disasters or accidents, providing faster mobilization and visual assessment of the structure.”
There is a Place for Different Types of Equipment and Technology for Bridge Inspections
Despite the promise and capabilities of UAV or drone tools for bridge inspection work, the need to place a human inspector within reach of a bridge’s structural elements remains.
A recent article addressing the use of drones for bridge inspection work in Roads & Bridges magazine suggests an approach for successfully making use of new technology for bridge asset management and inspection,
- Have a plan in place. Where will the drone be most effective and what is the end goal for the drone? Is it something that an inspector could not accomplish?
- How will this be used in future asset management? For overall structure modeling, specific defect tracking, or maybe gaining access to specific locations?
- Understand the end documentation goal. How will files be organized and post-processed? Do clients want to see or use the digital twin model for asset management, rehabilitation, or new design purposes?
- Ensure the bridge and site are both put to consideration. Will it be possible for the drone to obtain the data inspectors and engineers need given potential site constraints such as traffic or weather?
Ultimately, bridge inspectors will need to continue assessing the availability of different types of equipment for facilitating bridge inspections as the options increase and improve.
You Can Rely on Under Bridge Platforms for the Best in Under Bridge Access Equipment
The professionals at Under Bridge Platforms are proud to serve the highway bridge inspection, maintenance, and construction industries throughout all of the Western States. We serve our customers across California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming, by providing the best selection of high quality under bridge access equipment.
In addition, we support clients in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Our large and world-class inventory of under bridge access platforms includes high quality aerial access equipment such as the versatile Aspen UB60 Bridge Inspection Unit and the HPT 38 Truck Mounted Platform.
As one of the nation’s premier under bridge platform equipment rental providers we work hard to ensure that you can rely on us. And that includes knowing we can guide you through the entire process of buying or renting the right under bridge inspection vehicle and equipment.
No matter the size or type of project, the expert team at Under Bridge Platforms is here to help you make the proper selection.
We take a great deal of pride in being the only company in our industry based in California that offers total under bridge access. Because we believe in providing only quality customer service, we have managed to build long-lasting relationships with our esteemed customers.
And we intend to keep it that way.