Audit: Some Michigan bridge inspections lacking

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — An audit finds some Michigan bridges classified as being in critical condition aren’t being inspected as frequently or as thoroughly as they should be.

The Michigan Department of Transportation agreed with findings from the state Auditor General that inspections of bridges need to be improved.

MDOT is required to inspect more than 5,800 state-owned bridges at least every two years, but that doesn’t always happen.

In a Friday phone interview, MDOT Director Kirk Steudle told 24 Hour News 8 the result of the audit are an improvement from a review in 2010 that slammed the state’s bridge inspection program.

“We went from ineffective to moderately effective and we’re moving in the right direction,” Steudle said. “We’re getting better.”

The auditor’s report Friday said MDOT didn’t have sufficient processes for ensuring inspectors consistently increased the frequency of inspections for structurally deficient bridges. MDOT also didn’t provide consistent guidance to inspectors for bridges where plywood decking is used to prevent broken concrete from falling onto traffic. There are 270 of those bridges statewide, Steudle said.

“We’ve got more and more bridges now that have plywood under them that’s now taking longer and longer and longer for inspectors to do their jobs,” Steudle said.

The report recommends MDOT pursue legislation to set the frequency for risk-based bridge inspection, allowing for longer inspection intervals where warranted to improve efficiency.

Steudle said that would give inspectors more time to focus on so-called critical bridges while spending less time on recently built bridges.

Despite the findings, records show bridge conditions are improving in Michigan.

In Kent County, six of more than 280 state bridges are listed as structurally deficient. Three years ago, that was nine.

“We’ve got to keep the investment in the bridge,” Steudle said. “If a bridge goes out, the road’s closed, and if the road gets in poor condition that means we have to slow down, but if the bridge is out you can’t get through it, so we’ve actually placed a higher emphasis on bridges.”

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