By Lauren Casey
A routine inspection on the Sherman Minton Bridge between New Albany and Louisville recently uncovered a crack that led Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to close the bridge, shifting thousands of cars to other routes every day.
State and federal officials now are studying the situation to determine how to repair the bridge – and trying to determine how to prevent such problems in the future.
Here's what Will Wingfield, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said about the issues with the Sherman Minton span, public safety and other bridges in Indiana:
Question: How did inspectors find the crack in this bridge?
Answer: There was maintenance work in progress (that involved) removing a plate over a load bearing part of the bridge. Under that plate the workers discovered the crack.
Q: How likely is the state to find problems with other bridges over time?
A: (The state) requires bridges to be inspected every other year. There is a rigorous inspection program in place to ensure public safety. Not all bridges are alike and this Sherman Minton Bridge was very unique from most other bridges across the state and even the nation.
Q: How dangerous was the crack in the Sherman Minton Bridge to civilians?
A: It was dangerous enough that the engineers who inspected the bridge recommended it be shut down, which is what we did. These structural engineers make recommendations for the safety of the people.
Q: How long will it take to fix the bridge so drivers can use it again?
A: We do not have an estimate yet on how long this process will take. The bridge is still undergoing more testing and analysis, which should be wrapped up in the next few weeks.
Q: How expensive will it be to repair the crack?
A: Again, we will not have an estimate until the testing and analysis of the bridge is complete.
Q: Are there many other bridges in Indiana that could have similar problems? Are inspectors looking into this more carefully?
A: This bridge has a very unique in design, construction, and materials. Also most other bridges across the state are much smaller in scale.
It is very unlikely that that there would be others with this same problem. The design of this bridge is not redundant and that causes problems for the entire bridge.
Q: Have inspections been more aggressive after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007?
A: That is a hard thing to categorize. I would say the Minneapolis bridge collapse definitely brought more public attention to this issue.
However, this rigorous approach has always been a part of bridge inspections. The main thing that changed was the public's attention to the problems.
Q: Does the discovery of a crack (in the Sherman Minton Bridge) mean that the inspection process works or does the state need to boost its inspection efforts to catch problems earlier?
A: I think it is an example of the process working. We were able to discover a problem before people are put in harm's way.
The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.