While officials said Thursday it’s too soon after the deadly Minnesota bridge collapse to know if there are lessons to be learned from the tragedy that could be applied to Riverside County bridges, they assured drivers that local roadway spans are safe and undergo regular inspections.
Possibly the county’s most spectacular new bridge under construction is a giant “flyover” bridge connection near the downtown area of the city of Riverside rising 80 feet above the area around the usually jammed interchange of the 60, 91 and 215 freeways. Construction on that span is expected to be finished next year, according to state officials, and its part of a five-year freeway improvement project in the area.
The improvement project meets all the criteria for structural integrity and safety, even though there have been fires and truck accidents at the site, according to California Department of Transportation spokesperson Terese Lagana.
She said two incomplete “flyovers,” including the 80-foot-high span, will connect Interstate 215 to the 60 and 91 freeways and are being built to the highest standards.
“We are continually doing inspections to ensure the quality of the work being done,” Lagana said. “The flyovers meet all the criteria for construction of bridges of that composition.”
She said several fires and big rig accidents on operating freeways adjacent to the construction areas during May and June left no lasting damage.
“If anything occurs on a freeway, especially if it’s a crash involving a semi or other large vehicle, it’s definitely looked at immediately for structural safety,” Lagana said. “The safety of the motoring public is at the forefront of what we do.”
At least four deaths have been confirmed in the collapse of a major eight-lane Minneapolis bridge during yesterday’s rush hour, with more victims expected to be found in vehicles that dropped into the Mississippi River. Many of those vehicles are stuck beneath large chunks of concrete from the collapsed bridge, according to authorities.
Riverside County Deputy Director of Transportation Juan Perez said Caltrans inspects all Riverside County bridges more than 20 feet long. He said the tragedy in Minnesota has not sparked any undue concerns over bridge safety in the unincorporated areas.
“We’ll have to wait to see what information comes out of it (the Minnesota bridge collapse),” Perez said. “We don’t have much information to digest on the cause.”
Perez said there are two major bridge replacement projects planned by the county in the next two to four years.
He said one is the River Road span at the Santa Ana River in Norco, and the other is the Van Buren Boulevard span at the Santa Ana River north of Riverside.
Caltrans determined both bridges needed seismic rehabilitation, Perez said.
“They’ve been there for many, many years,” he said. “They’ve withstood quite a few quakes. But the state is recommending they be replaced for the long-term.”
Caltrans spokesperson Traci Peterson, asked about Inland Empire bridge safety, said her agency decided to replace a dozen bridges last year on Interstate 40 in San Bernardino County after the long-term strength of the spans was called into question.
“In a few cases, there were cracks that caught our inspectors’ attention,” Peterson said. “The bridges were really deteriorating, and we knew if we didn’t replace them, there would be an eventual failure.”
According to Peterson, Caltrans engineers assigned to various districts perform bi-annual inspections on every bridge in their areas. The inspections typically involve obtaining core samples of concrete and performing durability tests on them, she said.
Peterson described the crossings as “wash bridges,” several of which were a hundred feet or less in length, that spanned culverts or drainage canals. The concrete and reinforced steel structures were demolished and new ones constructed in their place, she said.
Most of the work occurred on a 17-mile stretch of I-40 between Kelbacker and Essex roads. The last bridge was replaced in May.