How many DOTers does it take to fix a bridge?

Backhoe on 80You might not even realize the role you play in keeping traffic moving safely and efficiently, but at the end of the day, each one of us is responsible for some piece of the mobility puzzle.  

Take this scenario for instance. Someone hauling a large piece of equipment forgets to lower the boom. You can imagine the damage that can cause when the truck goes under a bridge that isn’t as tall as the equipment. If the bridge is one of ours, this all-too-common scenario starts a chain of events within the Iowa Department of Transportation that either benefits from or impacts the work you do every day, whether you realize it or not.

At the scene

This video is from a bridge hit under U.S. 30 earlier this year. When a crash like this is reported, several DOTers and our partners spring into action. Local law enforcement or the Iowa State Patrol are typically the first ones on the scene. They contact our Traffic Management Center in Ankeny with the details. Staff in the TMC coordinate with additional resources both inside and outside the Iowa DOT. This could mean Motor Vehicle Enforcement or district maintenance staff are called to provide traffic control. Depending on the circumstances, maintenance forces may be called on to help in other ways at the crash location. Staff from the Office of Bridges and Structures will be notified and additional assistance may be needed by the district bridge crew or inspectors. 

Emergency detour signsWhile all this is going on, the TMC also helps keep traffic moving by coordinating public messages on dynamic message signs and putting information on the 511 system. These alerts may also spark Strategic Communications to post information about the incident through a press release or on social media to help keep people in the area safely moving around the bridge hit.

If the hit causes significant enough damage, DOT management and the Federal Highway Administration are notified. With a major hit to a bridge that causes traffic to be detoured, previously developed traffic management plans may be implemented.  

Motor Vehicle Enforcement may also be called up to do an inspection of the vehicle and driver. Driver and Identification Services may get a call to answer questions related to the status of the driver’s license. A review of the condition of the vehicle and its registration status will be checked through systems from Vehicle and Motor Carrier Services. Citations and fines may be issued and our staff might be called on to assist the driver through any necessary steps to remain licensed.

Once the extent of the damage is assessed, we work together to determine what restrictions should be placed on the bridge to make sure travelers are safe. If that means restricting size or weight of vehicles traveling across the bridge, the folks in Motor Carrier Services put the information in their online system to make sure trucking companies are aware of the temporary limits.


For bridge hit post (2)

Careful planning gets people moving again

Getting the roadway returned to normal as quickly as possible is the basic premise behind our shift in focus to operations. This strategic approach to improving the state's transportation system to help people reach a destination, safely, efficiently, and conveniently involves everyone of us at the Iowa DOT. To make this all work, the scenario that we just explored depends on the careful implementation of the service layer plans that have been developed. From traveler information to let people know what’s going on, incident management to open up the roadway more quickly and work zone management to safely get the repairs done, our focus on getting people moving again is key. Service layer plans

How do we work together?

Those are the pretty obvious connections in this scenario. But have you thought about what’s happening behind the scenes to get this bridge repaired and traffic running smoothly again? For this specific instance of a bridge hit, here’s how many work units come together to get the job done.

Years and maybe even decades before this incident occurred, bridge plans were drawn up documenting every detail down to types of bolts that were used. Those initial plans, as well as plans of any bridge modifications over the years, are carefully reviewed to come up with a game plan for the repair.  Planning for an efficient repair may include reviewing traffic data for the area and determining if closing the bridge altogether to get the repair done more quickly or keeping one lane open and fixing the damage while traffic is moving is the better option. Our folks will consider things like the cost to motorists for out-of-distance travel as one aspect of this evaluation.

Once a repair option is decided upon, implementing the repair game plan starts with determining if the repair can be made under an existing contract or if a new contract letting is necessary.  Either way, a contractor is selected through our bidding process and the repairs can be scheduled. The list of those involved with restoring the bridge continues to grow and likely would include:

  • Office of Contracts – deciding if it will be a special emergency letting or regular letting and innovative contracting methods such as incentive/disincentive or A+B bidding.
  • Purchasing – In one case we did an advance purchase of a prestressed concrete beam so the contractor would not have to wait for fabrication once they won the construction contract.
  • Office of Construction and Materials – assists with evaluating constructability, traffic management details, and materials issues.  On occasion, we have looked at materials changes that can be made to accelerate the project and they provide technical guidance.

Getting the details just right

Bridge repair projects like the one we’ve been talking about are reviewed like any other project, with a project number and environmental review, including the Office of Location and Environment checking the Iowa DOTs Historic Bridges of Iowa to see if the bridge is historically significant. 

Sometimes the repairs may require work that includes erosion control or reseeding of a patch of right of way. When that happens, our roadside group gets involved.

Speed is the name of the game

While this seems like it could be a long process, getting repairs done quickly and safely to bring the bridge back to normal as soon as possible is always the goal. Many of the behind the scenes tasks are done simultaneously, saving time.

Using the plans we talked about earlier and working with all those involved, the repairs are made and the road is returned to normal traffic. Documentation of the repairs are entered into our bridge inventory and inspection management system for use in future bridge inspections.

Payment due and payment rendered

Bridge repairs aren’t cheap. When a scenario like the one we’ve been describing happens, we’ll make every attempt to recover the cost of the repair from the company or individual responsible or their insurer. Our claims management folks begin working on this process as soon as they are notified of the damages. For some repairs, there may also be a request for federal funds made. Once the repairs are made, the contractors submit invoices and are paid for their work through the Office of Finance.

Wrapping it all up

This is just a high-level overview of one of hundreds of scenarios related to the work we do every day. Every one of us provides something of value that keeps travelers in Iowa moving safely. We are all busy and it’s easy to get caught up in the stuff we do every day without realizing how important even the smallest task can be to our mission of “getting you there.”  

Great comment T728 - thanks for that. Communication is a main element in the TIM Service Layer Plan

One of the most behind-the-scenes activity is communications, yet very important. The DOT maintains 2-way radio for the highway maintenance department and the MVE division. DOT communications also supplies all the cell phones for the DOT. Without prompt communications none of the emergency response could start.

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