PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – Within minutes after this week’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake, the Burlington County Bridge Commission was able to assess the impact on its landmark bridges crossing from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, determining that the earthquake did not impact the safety or functionality of the bridges. Thanks to smart technology sensing and data collection equipment installed on the two Commission-owned bridges and monitored by the Commission Engineer of Record Pennoni Associates, engineers reviewing data from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge and the Burlington-Bristol Bridge from remote locations were able to determine almost immediately that these bridges remained unaffected.
While buildings were being evacuated all along the East Coast in fear of structural failure, the Commission was able to immediately assure the public that their bridges were safe. Once the over-all safety and security of the bridges was confirmed, the Commission ordered Pennoni inspectors and engineers to the bridges to perform additional visual inspections.
“As of early Tuesday evening, we had boats in the water checking the piers of both bridges,” said Chairman John Comegno. “Not because we suspected damage, but to err on the side of extreme caution—the visual inspection was strictly precautionary. It was due diligence on the part of our engineers and ultimately the responsibility of me and my fellow Commissioners to ensure the public’s safety.”
These emergency inspections are in addition to the regularly scheduled in-depth, hands-on inspections that were performed last summer and fall. “That’s one of the reasons we are not overly concerned,” said David S. Lowdermilk, PE, Pennoni’s Regional Vice President for Transportation. “We know the bridges are in good shape.”
Data collectors on the Burlington-Bristol Bridge collect data from strain gauges which track the everyday stresses and strains on the bridge, including weather and effects of sun and wind. Any unusual stress levels would trigger a recording of the event. The earthquake did not trigger the system to start recording. “The foresight shown by the Commission in embracing this technology allowed us to immediately determine that there was no compromise to the safety and integrity of their long-span structures as a result of this earthquake,” Lowdermilk added. “We were proud to assist the Commission in quickly assessing the results, allowing for speedy communication to the public that the bridges were safe.”
Vice-Chairman James Fattorini added, “The decision to integrate smart technology on these bridges was before my time on the Commission, but it speaks volumes to the organization’s leadership and commitment to its core mission of maintaining safe and efficient bridges.”
“This earthquake certainly highlighted the Commission’s emergency response capabilities with respect to our bridge structures,” said Commissioner Troy Singleton. “The speed with which our staff responded to this event was nothing short of amazing.”