Opinion: Cincinnati bridge collapse an eye-opener for construction and infrastructure safety

Carley Hull is a senior news major. Contact her at [email protected].

Carley Hull

On Monday, a Cincinnati highway overpass collapsed over I-75, killing a construction worker inside an excavator and injuring a truck driver. On Monday, a Cincinnati highway overpass collapsed over I-75, killing a construction worker inside an excavator and injuring a truck driver. While the overpass was actually in the process of being removed and therefore most likely a construction accident, not an infrastructure failure, this one bridge incident should still be a catalyst to prevent further tragedy that could ensue both for construction practices and infrastructure.

According to Cincinnati.com, engineering and construction experts told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the eastern portion of the bridge had been removed earlier and was a reason why the bridge could have collapsed. Linwood Howell, a senior engineer for XRStructural Engineering Services, based in Texas, told the Enquirer that that the middle should have been demolished first.

This move to instead remove the ends first allowed Contractor Kokosing Construction Company, Inc. to avoid a $3,000 fine for every 15 minutes a lane of I-75 was closed during construction. This shortcut saved money but cost a life. This answers the question as to why the lane was even open in the first place: It was all for money, not safety.

The safety of the bridge, out of use and still causing injury, is concerning. So should we also be concerned about the safety of bridges we still use? 

According to December 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, 2,242 out of 27,015 bridges in Ohio are structurally deficient, meaning that the bridges need monitoring and repair, but are said to not be in danger of collapsing. That is nearly 8.3 percent of the state’s bridges which are in need of some kind of repair. This is a decrease from 2012, when 2,462 of 27,045 bridges were listed as structurally deficient. 

What is concerning about the number of bridges labeled structurally deficient is that the deficiency status in this data does not take into account the years the bridges were built or reconstructed.

I think this is a startling note that could be making deficient bridges appear safer than they actually are. The 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was not expected because the bridge was considered safe after a multitude of inspections. Yet, I think the age of the Silver Bridge, which was constructed in 1928, could have been an issue that added to the bridges’ decline. While the Silver Bridge incident killed 46 people and caused reform for America’s bridges, I think a modern day reform for bridge and construction safety needs to be evaluated.