Bridge Inspection, Part Two: Working Safely to Ensure Public Safety

Inspecting a bridge requires skill and experience in order to identify conditions that may impair safe operation or useful life expectancy. Whether it’s a 20-foot bridge or a 1,000-foot span, inspection plays an important role in identifying both structural and non-structural concerns.

We continue our conversation about bridge inspection in part two of this series with GAI Transportation Technical Manager Mike Beresford, PE, CBSI and Senior Project Engineer Brad Kughn, PE, CBSI as they talk about Certified Bridge Safety Inspector training and causes for bridge failure.

What kind of training or certification do you need to be a bridge inspector?

Mike: To become a Certified Bridge Safety Inspector (CBSI) in Pennsylvania requires the successful completion of a two-week Basic Course. This includes passing an eight-hour exam with a score of at least 70 percent. To maintain the certification we must attend a three-day Refresher Course every two years to keep abreast of policy and procedure changes, new inspection techniques, and problem areas. There are also specialty courses we take for Inspection of Fracture Critical Members and Scour Assessment.

Brad: And we have to be a practicing CBSI for five years working under a qualified team leader before becoming a team leader and leading the inspection effort with another CBSI.

What safety procedures do you follow?

Inspecting high structures requires following stringent safety procedures.

Mike: Within the CBSI course there are several lectures dedicated to inspector safety during which we discuss safe procedures for inspecting each type of bridge. For public safety,  the course also goes into the details of condition inspection procedures, what we’re looking for, how it impacts bridge performance, and how it may impact public safety. There is a focus on how we apply condition-rating codes to different portions of the bridge using a scale of 0 to 9—with code 0 applicable for closed bridges and code 9 for new structures.

Brad: We follow CBSI general safety procedures, but GAI has its own internal safety procedures, including job hazard analysis. Before we go out for inspections, we complete HASP (Health and Safety Plan) forms for each site. We’re familiar with most of these bridges, like those in the Port Authority contract, and we already know what safety concerns are out there. We often evaluate some of the local bridges before we go out on inspections to find out if there are potential safety risks not identified in our current HASP. We adhere to our standard operating procedures for safety on every inspection.

Mike: Internally, we also have fall protection training and confined space entry training.

Sometimes bridges fail, like when the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed 10 years ago. What are some of the lessons learned from incidents like that?

Mike: That was determined to be a gusset plate failure. Gusset plates are the plates that form the connections between individual members of a truss bridge. A gusset plate connecting fracture-critical truss members cracked and caused the collapse. That was the first time that a gusset plate caused a failure of a bridge.

As a result, gusset plates are now included as separate members in Fatigue and Fracture inspection plans, and gusset plate analyses and load rating are now part of the inspection or performed under separate contracts to make sure the current gusset plates are satisfactory.

Brad: In the last four or five years, GAI did the gusset plate inspection and load rating for Silver Memorial and Williamstown Marietta Truss Bridges, which are large river crossings in West Virginia.

What would you say is the most value you add for GAI’s bridge inspection projects?

Mike: Experience. Our number-one goal is to provide safety to the public, and knowing the structures we inspect and the correct procedures for inspecting them help insure a successful project.

Brad: Efficiency. We’re both able to look at an existing bridge file and efficiently come up with a plan of attack—how we’re going to get that inspection done in a timely manner, which is cost-effective for our clients and for GAI without sacrificing quality. We know what it takes to get the right product and meet the right requirements in a timely manner.

What other aspects of inspections do you do?

Mike: We do post-flood inspections for our municipal clients.  For these, we’ll go out after the flooding and look at all the bridges that may have scour issues, and make sure the substructure foundations are stable and no damage has occurred.

Brad: Scour issues are when stream flow or floodwater erode the streambed underneath the bridge. Some substructure capacity could be lost on a bridge if the scour undermines the foundations.

Mike: We also inspect light rail transit (LRT) and railroad bridges, radio towers, and the Mon and Duquesne inclines. And we perform special inspections to support bridge rehabilitation or replacement projects. We’ll inspect the bridge to take accurate measurements for design drawings and to identify and quantify areas to be corrected during design for rehabilitation projects.

Inspecting the Mon Incline takes our experts to impressive heights.

MORE TO COME: In part three of our bridge inspection series, GAI experts Mike and Brad discuss the various entities that have to coordinate in order to perform a detailed bridge inspection.


Brad Kughn, PE, CBSI started with GAI in 2009, when he was awarded a scholarship by GAI toward his senior year at Point Park University.  Since his hire Brad has become a Certified Bridge Safety Inspector and an expert in free climbing techniques.  His combined skills and expertise have come into play when conducting safety inspections for structures including the Mon Incline, Panhandle Bridge, PAAC Radio towers, DCNR Kinzua Viaduct, and others.  Brad is currently working as a senior project engineer on the I-10 Improvement project in Duval County, Florida, and previously contributed to the design of new prestressed concrete bridges as part of Florida’s I-95 Improvement project.

Mike Beresford, PE, CBSI, a 26-year GAI veteran, is currently leading the GAI team for a four-year, $11M agreement with the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The team will provide inspection and engineering services for 79 bridges that are owned and maintained by the Authority. 

To learn more about GAI’s Bridge Inspection and Design services, contact GAI Transportation Technical Manager Mike Beresford, PE, CBSI at 412.399.5326 and Senior Project Engineer Brad Kughn, PE, CBSI at 412.399.5350.

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