2007-08-24 / Community

Weiner Calls For Sensors To Monitor Bridges

At a press conference held at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, government officials announced plans calling for the installation of new fiber optic stress-detection technology on bridges, allowing for year-round inspection.

U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner joined with the ranking Democrat on the New York State Senate Transportation Committee, John Sabini, and City Councilman David Yassky, to announce the introduction of federal legislation intended to match 50 percent of funds supplied by cities and states that employ such technologies.

This type of technology could prevent a catastrophic bridge failure like the tragic incident in Minneapolis. Currently, bridges are inspected every two years; approximately 90 percent of inspections are conducted visually.

Recent technological advances, such as fiber optic sensors, can be installed on spans and enable bridges to signal for help the moment structural problems arise. A series of sensors embedded in the bridge communicate wirelessly to a computer and provide engineers with a real-time picture of a bridge's health and safety, so that problems can be acted upon immediately.

Fiber optic sensor programs have already been successfully used around the world and on the Manhattan and Third Avenue bridges in New York. Sensor technology is being used in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and countries like France, Germany and Japan.

Decay from rust on steel gussets used in nearly all of the city's steel bridges could eventually weaken supporting structures, and the cost to repair all the spans is prohibitive, according to Weiner. As New York City and the nation face infrastructure maintenance costs that dwarf the amount of funds currently budgeted, sensor technology would provide invaluable information as to which bridges need repair first.

"While our bridges are safe, we have to be vigilant and proactive in keeping them that way," said Weiner. "This low-cost and effective technology will allow us to predict problems and have virtual inspectors on our bridges 24-7. It's simply a no-brainer."

The cost of implementing this preventive technology is modest. The installation of a fiber optic system for a 1,000-foot span similar to the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis would have cost approximately $185,000, according to Weiner.

In contrast, the federal government has already directed $250 million for the rebuilding of that bridge, with the final cost estimated at up to $350 million. The cost of installing sensors in a larger span such as the Brooklyn Bridge is an estimated $250,000 to $500,000.

Weiner also announced that he will introduce legislation to create a federal matching grant program of 50 percent from the federal Highway Trust Fund for all cities or states that implement bridge monitoring technology. The bill will also include $500 million for the United States Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for sensor detection grants, which would fund an estimated 2,000 projects across the country.

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