Unless you’re an engineer, you probably don’t think much about highway bridges. Until one falls down. We’ll think about bridges. Today, on Engineering Works!
We all remember the tragic collapse in 2007 of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River. More than a dozen people died and almost 150 were injured. That got people thinking about bridges in a big way. We have a lot of them to think about. Almost 600,000 across the United States. Almost 49,000 in Texas alone.
More than 150,000 – one in four – are in such bad shape that engineers worry about their safety. What to do? We could install sensors to warn us when a bridge gets near actual failure. But wiring up all our bridges would be prohibitively expensive. As much as $200,000 each. Multiply that by 600,000 bridges and things get out of hand in a hurry.
There may be a better way. An engineer in Maryland has developed a new sensor that could solve the problem. It’s wireless and costs about $20 each. They should last at least 10 years, and since they get their power from the sun, they don’t need batteries or wired electricity. You could put 500 of them on the average highway bridge for about $10,000. Still a lot of money, but doable.
He’s been testing them on real bridges in Maryland and they seem to work.
We don’t cross any bridges on our way home, so we’ll see you next time.
Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.
Start the discussion: Now and then somebody comes up with an idea that seems too good not to put it to work. This may be one of them. What other ways could we use to make our bridges safer?