Aging infrastructure and inadequate maintenance is common in the United States, but this is also a dangerous combination that can lead the structure to collapse. An example is the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh that gave way on 28 January 2022, the same day President Biden visited the “Steel City.”
Although the bridge has been rated in “poor condition” by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, officials and even daily commuters who cross the bridge daily didn’t think it would give way. PennDOT officials have said the State has thousands of bridges in equally poor condition.
The Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh became a symbol of the country’s troubled infrastructure, and it collapsed into a ravine just before President Joe Biden visited the city.
ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card found that there are more than 46,000 “structurally deficient” bridges across the United States that, nevertheless, are crossed 178 million times every day.
An article in GEO Week says that the growing infrastructure problems in the US make inspection vital to prevent infrastructure catastrophes, and digitization can help with this.
Technology advancement has made digitizing infrastructure available, and when state and local governments take full advantage of the technology can become a game-changer.
Regular digitization efforts and making the data more accessible from field personnel to the decision-maker so that infrastructure changes could be tracked regularly and updated. For example, if a vehicle crashes into any part of the bridge, a field inspector will check the bridge for any damages, such as new cracks, spalling or gradual deterioration. The new data will then be added to the digital copy of the infrastructure and should be accessible to field inspectors and decision-makers.
However, digitizing assets and creating infrastructure models and a national map of all infrastructure is an enormous task that is more than simply using drones, 3D mapping systems, lidar, and construction software.
First, before data or information on infrastructure can be transferred in digital form and become a “living” document, original information regarding the State of infrastructure should be first available.
“Part of the larger problem here is a lack of digitization of records and lack of a central repository system of blueprints, maintenance records, manuals, and the like. Additionally, many buildings have little or no ‘as built’ documentation, which can differ from the original plans or blueprints significantly as building designs evolved while being constructed. For Kevin Dowling, CEO of Kaarta, the lack of as-built documentation is a problem that is front of mind.”
Second, people need to know how to use the systems and make the most of the data they provide. Training should be provided to government employees on how to use the system and help them understand that the digital model represents the actual assets and their changing condition.
The article notes that these transitions take a lot of time, and digitizing just a single asset like a bridge and gathering all the details is a job in itself.
The employee assigned to the task should also ensure to notice the most crucial data, among all other jobs. But then there are already technology firms and businesses specializing in these fields and offering these services to governments.
Feigenbaum, B. (2022, January 29). Pittsburgh bridge collapse highlights how governments put off infrastructure repairs and maintenance. Reason Foundation. Retrieved from https://reason.org/commentary/pittsburgh-bridge-collapse-highlights-how-governments-put-off-infrastructure-repairs-and-maintenance/
Barnes, J. (2022, 29 March). Infrastructure inspection is a pressing need. Geo Week News. Retrieved from https://www.geoweeknews.com/blogs/infrastructure-inspection-is-a-pressing-need
Barnes, J. (2022, 5 October). With infrastructure needs looming, are the tools ready? Geo Week News. Retrieved from https://www.geoweeknews.com/blogs/with-infrastructure-needs-looming-are-the-tools-ready