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Revitalizing American Infrastructure: Bridge Inspection and Testing

Revitalizing American Infrastructure: Bridge Inspection and Testing

Civil engineer inspection under bridge construction by car lift at sydney city, australia

By Luke Carothers

In the world of infrastructure, one of the biggest events of the past year was the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh.  Coupled with the new infrastructure that allocates at least $350 billion to repair America’s highways and bridges, this event highlights the critical moment at which the AEC industry currently finds itself. Many in the AEC industry are pushing to repair and improve America’s aging infrastructure, particularly its 617,000 bridges.

One of the experts leading this push is Nagesh Goel, President and Co-Founder of Atlas Evaluation & Inspection Services (AEIS), which provides inspection, testing, certification, failure analysis, engineering, and material research services for infrastructure projects.  AEIS does this with an emphasis on welding metallurgy and non-destructive testing (NDT).  Headquartered in South Plainfield, NJ, Goel founded the company along with his wife, Puja, in 2008.  Since AEIS was founded, they have worked on some of the region’s largest infrastructure, including iconic bridges such as the Verrazano, George Washington, Tappan Zee, Throgs Neck, and Queensboro Bridges.

With so much focus on the nation’s infrastructure, the conversation is both about the standards of inspection as well as the processes.  Goel has over three decades of experience working in NDT and welding metallurgy, having seen the positive effects on public safety first hand.  For Goel, there has to be an emphasis on both metallurgy testing and NDT to ensure public safety.  Many bridges in America’s infrastructure network were fabricated with some level of structural steel.  The properties of these steel components can vary greatly based upon materials selected and method of fabrication.  In addition, these components may have a reduction of strength from excessive heat input or “localized hardening in the members due to improper process parameters.”  Whenever a bridge is scheduled for repairs or inspection, metallurgical testing helps “ensure that the procedures and process parameters that would be used to make the repairs will not result in detrimental properties after the repair work is completed.”

During bridge inspections, discontinuities will often be revealed, and metallurgical testing helps during these situations.  However, after the repairs are completed, NDT helps ensure that the undertaken repairs don’t have defects or flaws that are “unacceptable for bridge standards and specifications.”  According to Goel, this in turn “ensures routine inspection followed by a validation of procedures by metallurgical testing, followed by NDT, ensures that bridges perform as per their intended purpose and public safety is maintained.”

In 2021, the ASCE graded American infrastructure as a “C-”, with the biggest areas of concern being critical infrastructure such as bridges.  Goel believes that events such as the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge, as well as professional reports, indicate “an urgent need for infrastructure investment and revitalization among bridges.”  One of the responses from transportation decision-makers and government officials to this urgent situation has been to create new, stronger bridge inspection rules–including the creation of a national registry of inspectors. Goel notes that the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) new National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) was issued this year, and will now extend to bridges that didn’t previously qualify.  Previously, qualifications for bridge inspectors varied by jurisdiction.  Additionally, the frequency of inspections and qualifications of personnel saw the same level of variance.  Goel believes that these new standards, along with recent funding allocations, will “almost certainly impact the nation’s bridges and other infrastructure for the better.”

In many cases, these stronger standards mean that inspectors will have either more knowledge or better access to the most current methods of bridge inspection and testing.  By utilizing NDT techniques and tools, qualified inspectors are able to inspect every aspect of the structure and uncover and report on non-conformities.  When combined with visual inspection techniques, Goel notes that these issues, or non-conformities, are reported immediately.  This means that teams are already responding to and correcting the issue within a day or two of reporting.  Goel further points out that this process is improved by robust data and evaluation, enabling project owners and stakeholders to save money and ultimately create safer bridges.  

Goel believes that the new bridge standards contain important rules on how inspections need to be done, but the jurisdiction for enforcing these rules remains with state DOTs and local government bodies.  It is important, according to Goel, that the selected inspection teams are specialized on infrastructure inspections.  This ensures that their processes and personnel are qualified in inspection and testing, rather than having a single team that does everything.  According to Goel, having a dedication infrastructure inspection group can positively affect the final outcome for infrastructure projects, ensuring a project that is safe and built to code. 

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.