BAY BRIDGE CRASH
Md.'s Bridges and Tunnels Are Safe, Experts' Panel Says
Thursday, June 25, 2009
An independent panel formed in response to a deadly crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge last year has determined that Maryland's bridges and tunnels are safe and its inspection program exceeds national standards, according to a report released yesterday by the state's acting transportation secretary, Beverley K. Swaim-Staley.
Maryland inspects its bridges and tunnels annually, even though the federal requirement is that bridges be inspected every two years, said Mary Lou Ralls, a former director of the bridge division for the Texas Department of Transportation who led the eight-member independent panel. Although no mandatory national standard for tunnel inspections exists, the panel found that Maryland applies the same inspection practices to its tunnels and bridges.
"Based on the information that we had access to over the last eight months, the bridges and tunnels are safe," Ralls said. "They have a regular maintenance program."
Ronald L. Freeland, executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said: "Our facilities are in good shape. We know there is room for improvement, and that is one thing we take from the recommendations and the report itself."
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) called for a panel of experts to review the bridge and tunnel inspection program last year after a truck driver was killed when he swerved to avoid a car, crashed into the bridge's concrete Jersey barrier railing and toppled into the bay.
The experts studied the system for eight months. "This tragic event stirred public concerns about the adequacy of the railings on the Bay Bridge and whether the Maryland Transportation Authority was adequately inspecting its bridges and tunnels," the report says.
The panel found that the transportation authority has made significant changes to its inspection program in recent years. They include requiring its consultants to hire more experienced inspectors, altering assignments so that different teams would inspect each bridge and requiring inspectors to be within arm's reach of the bridge or tunnel they were examining.
The panel made nearly 20 recommendations to the state, advising it to hire inspectors to manage the program and write reports "in a style that assumes they will be accessed and used by individuals who may be unfamiliar with inspection formats."