ORLANDO, Fla. — Do you know what it takes to keep the bridges you drive on every day safe?
Channel 9 morning anchor and traffic expert Alexa Lorenzo went inside Florida bridges to show you how crews inspect them and prioritize fixes.
Just 10 inches above her head, hundreds of cars were driving across Broadway bridge in Daytona Beach.
“We are inside what is called the segmental box of the bridge,” said Mario Bizzio, a structures maintenance engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation.
He showed Lorenzo every element that goes into inspecting Florida’s more than 12,000 bridges.
“They do a very comprehensive hands-on inspection of every part of the bridge,” he said.
The bridge inspection is broken down into three major components. Each gets a numerical rating from FDOT that ranges from excellent to poor.
The first thing is the deck where a vehicle contacts a bridge.
Then it’s the superstructure, which is what supports the deck, and for some bridges like the Broadway bridge, that means the inside.
It’s a detailed, days-long process checking the tendons and the concrete.
“We also look for water. we don’t like water coming into the structure because water is actually very corrosive, particularly in this environment,” Bizzio said.
But its not just looking, it’s also listening.
“Just by the sound of it they know if something is changing with them,” Bizzio said.
Then they analyze the substructure, including the columns that connect everything to the ground, which, for a bridge like this, includes underwater work.
When all is said and done, the overall bridge rating is determined by the component with the lowest score.
FDOT inspects all bridges but only maintains and repairs the ones that are state-owned.
Data shows roughly 95 percent of the FDOT’s bridges are in excellent or good condition.
“If a bridge is rated poor, doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe. It simply means that it’s time to do some work to repair word replacement and so on,” Bizzio said.
The bridges were built with maintenance in mind. If they need to replace a tendon, they already have a spare spot to do that.
“It is normal like anything else that has been in operation for two decades, being an old car or old house or anything,” he said. “It does require maintenance.”
The routine inspections happen roughly once every two years unless there are concerns.
“There’s a noise on a particular bridge or somebody spots a crack that they don’t like, we respond to all their calls. We make no exceptions for that,” Bizzio said.
After a major storm, FDOT inspects every bridge in the storm’s path.
And then there are emergencies like a crash on I-75 in Marion County earlier this year.
“If we deem the bridge, it’s unsafe, we will not have people driving on it. It’s as simple as that,” Bizzio said.
Bizzio said hopes this literal inside look makes you feel confident that what you are driving on is sturdy and secure.
FDOT’s excellent, good, fair or poor ratings are not available to the public, but the sufficiency rating is. That rating is part of a different formula used by the Federal Highway Administration when it allocates federal funds to the states for bridge replacement.
In Central Florida, roughly a dozen bridges have a sufficiency rating under 50, meaning they are eligible for funding as a replacement.
Click here to see Florida bridge safety information.
Click here for FDOT bridge inspection information.
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