Not All Infrastructure Has Been Left to Decay

Emsworth Locks and DamsSome is getting the needed maintenance. Army Corps of Engineers gives tour of Emsworth Locks and Dams in advance of major rehabilitation project

NOTE: Counting down to the end on WordPress. Please see this post and future posts at my new home: 357 Magnum over on Blogspot. And you should update any links. (Posts are in both places right now, but that is a small, but not meaningless bit of work, so it will go on for a VERY short time.)

The image is via Wikimedia and The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Click for a larger view and some info about the image.

In this case the project is on the Ohio River. The goal of the USACE was to inspect and reinforce a lock in the Pittsburgh area. Like a lot of the locks on the US Inland Waterway, this one is a Panamax lock. It is 110ft wide by 600ft long. The dam and locks in question were built in 1919 through 1922.

The Corps rebuilt and converted the dam to a gated structure between 1935 and 1938. That raised its pool about seven feet to accommodate more modern barges. Its electrical systems, operating machinery and buildings were upgraded in the 1980s, and the gates were upgraded about six years ago.

Given the age of the lock, the work was extensive.

The chamber walls were reinforced with at least 14 metal struts about 6-foot-tall and at least an inch thick to ensure stability.

See this link for the US Army Corps of Engineers page on the Emsworth Locks and Dam, and see this link for a previous posting on Inland Waterway infrastructure.

Politicians Don’t Like to Spend Money Maintaining Infrastructure

Not when they can build flashy new infrastructure. Seattle must prioritize bridge maintenance and basic infrastructure. And even especially if that new stuff has a patina of “green.”

Seattle was flying high before COVID-19 struck. Jobs. Tax revenue. But they couldn’t be bothered to spend money on maintaining bridges and piers. They had better things to spend money on.

In the spring, The West Seattle Bridge was closed due to excessive cracking. That should have been a wake-up call, but it wasn’t.

On September 13th Pier 58 in Seattle partially collapsed. Surveillance video taken from neighboring Seattle Aquarium shows the moment Pier 58 partially collapsed into Elliott Bay on Sunday, September 13, 2020, injuring two. Additional videos will autoplay after the first video completes.

As a result of that collapse, the city closed Pier 57, which is a waterfront destination with a large Ferris Wheel.

Lack of money isn’t an excuse. Seattle’s budget grew 37% since 2015. Voters also approved a $930 million transportation levy in 2015, around 45% of which was for maintenance.

That levy was a red flag, however. It highlighted how City Hall was putting less emphasis on maintenance — the previous levy was 67% for maintenance — and opting to spend more on other things, including bike and bus lanes.

I don’t want to debate the merits of bike lanes, but the city spent money on foot rests for cyclists. And then there is the streetcar. What explains Seattle’s streetcar fixation? Look at who really benefits. That article is from Jan 2019, Pre-COVID-19, which probably makes the point even more effectively.

Because streetcars, no matter how lovable, are slow and inflexible. They’re not mass transit (at least how we run them here). There’s proof of this in studies, as well as from underperforming lines all over the country. But most crucially the proof is right here under our noses.

Since 2007 we’ve been running street cars in Seattle. They have consistently cost more than predicted, and carried far fewer riders than expected. Most importantly, they’re failures as transit by the city’s own data.

For mass transit to make sense, it has to be on its own right-of-way. Someplace like Seattle, that means elevated trains or subways. Both of which are even more expensive than streetcars.

But hey, if we build more of them, that will make it better. Right? Or maybe not.

This past week the Seattle mayor decided to revive our most dubious transportation network, even though building a 1.2-mile connecting trolley link along First Avenue downtown is now projected to cost $286 million — a 100 percent cost overrun.

Because streetcars are green, even if no one uses them.

As for that wake-up call, better late than never I guess. As a result of the Pier Collapse an audit was undertaken of the city’s infrastructure.

This should be a wake-up call for officials who weren’t jolted enough by the West Seattle Bridge failure to reassess spending priorities. Problems the audit identifies weren’t caused by unanticipated concrete failures, but by deliberate decisions to skimp on maintenance and avoid dealing with deteriorating bridges.

The complete audit document can be found at the following link. Seattle Department of Transportation: Strategic Approach to Vehicle Bridge Maintenance is Warranted.

One of the points highlighted in the summary is worth repeating here.

Over the past 14 years, the average amount SDOT spent on bridge maintenance was $6.6 million annually.

Seattle spent $246 million on small expansion of the streetcar system, and $92.4 million maintaining the bridges in the city. Borrowing from Ronald Weasly, they need to sort out their priorities.

When You Build a Dam That Can Be Impacted By Vandalism…

You should at least try to ensure that vandalism doesn’t happen. From the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, we get Case Study: Maple Grove Dam (Colorado, 1979).

The dam was built in 1955. In 1960 the spillway was redesigned to handle a larger discharge, on the order of 1100 cubic feet per second.

The dam was doing a fine job of controlling floods. This was actually an “unintentional” side effect of the dam, and not part of its original design.

So since more of good thing is a better thing the local powers-that-be decided to see if they couldn’t improve the ability of the dam to deal with flooding. So in the 1970s a decision was made to add two Fabridams in the spillway, to increase the ability of the dam to deal with rare floods.

This new design included the addition of two Fabridams, one 30 foot long by 6 foot diameter and one 40 foot long by 10 foot diameter, placed within the newly enlarged spillway beneath the W. 27th Avenue bridge. The Fabridams were able to be filled with either water, air, or a combination of both and included automatic controls for ease of maintaining desired heights of both dams.

Fabridams are basically long tubes made of neoprene, laminated rubber, and nylon (the sort of material that inflatable boats are made from) that could be changed to increase and then decrease the holding capacity of the reservoir to attenuate floods. But there is a problem with that material, and any boater can tell you if they have an inflatable dinghy. That material can be punctured.

During a routine inspection of the Fabridams on March 17, 1979 around 11:45 PM, personnel of the CMWC noticed one of the Fabridams was collapsing and allowing water in the reservoir to be suddenly released down the spillway. The CMWC personnel immediately contacted the Wheat Ridge Police Department, who began evacuations of approximately 2,000 people from residential units along Lena Gulch in the 2.3 mile river reach immediately below the dam. Approximately 100 acre-feet of water was released during a period of about 2.5 to 3 hours before the spillway flows ceased, lowering the reservoir by about 3 feet.

There was no loss of life, but basements and first floors of homes and businesses were flooded. You can find an image of one of the points where the Fabridam was damaged at this link.

The punctures were determined to be the work of vandals. Temporary repairs were made, and later permanent repairs were made, but that isn’t the what addressed the cause of the failure.

Starting March 18, 1979, personnel surveillance was notched up to half-hour intervals without pattern. Security lighting was installed on March 27, 1979. On April 2, 1979, a seasonal changeover was made filling the Fabridam with water instead of air, a mode of operation less likely to be tampered with. On June 4, 1979, a low pressure monitor and alarm system was put into operation which activated a visual and audio alert in the treatment plant anytime the pressure system in the Fabridams operated for longer than two minutes. Alternative designs for supplying emergency power were initiated on June 14, 1979. On August 1, 1979 fencing was placed on top of the concrete walls of the spillway that included a barbed wire overhang in an effort to deter entry into the property

Apparently before this incident the attitude was “What could go wrong?” No security. No monitoring. No worries. After the incident they knew exactly what could go wrong.

An erodible coffer dam was installed downstream of the Fabridams in 1980, and in 2004 the system was upgraded.

In 2004, the Fabridams in the Maple Grove Reservoir were reaching the end of their service life. A replacement system was put in place that uses hydraulic cylinders to raise and lower two independent steel crest gates. They operate under the same discharge parameters as did the Fabridams, but are less susceptible to vandalism and are simpler to operate and maintain than the Fabridams were, allowing greater confidence in the integrity of Maple Grove Dam and ultimately a safer option for the public.

This isn’t the only example of an inflatable dam being damaged by vandalism. In 2015 a dam that was part of a freshwater system in California was damaged in spite of some security. Nearly 50 million gallons of water lost due to vandalism in East Bay. The video starts with an annoying advertisement.

So what is the moral of the story? Our infrastructure is under attack. And while that may not have been so apparent in 1979, by 2015 it should have been apparent. They make reference to the fact that the security which was in place decades in that California article had worked without incident. “We’ve always done it that way,” should not be your guiding principle.

You should consider how vulnerable any infrastructure you maintain is, to accident, to vandalism, whatever. You should have some security in place and you should review it. You should have monitoring in place, and you should know ahead of time what you are going to do if something goes wrong. And it should go without saying, but you should know what is important, and not just if you own infrastructure, but the stuff you rely on. What would you do in the event of a long-term power outage? What if your communications are disrupted? What if you can’t get back into the office building because of fire or other hazard? In short, you need to plan for what can go wrong.

Pensacola Bay Bridge Damaged by Barge

Known locally as The Three Mile Bridge, it was damaged in Hurricane Sally. Three Mile Bridge suffers massive damage after Hurricane Sally topples crane, section missing

The Pensacola Bay Bridge carries US 98, which a great scenic route to take in the panhandle of Florida. In that part of the world it crosses the from the isthmus of land that includes Oriole Beach, and Gulf Islands National Seashore, over to the mainland and Pensacola. Without that bridge, the detour to get the mainland is probably 20 miles or more, depending on where you start and where you are headed.

Photographs posted on social media are showing damage to the surface of the Pensacola Bay Bridge. The images indicate a crane fell on the bridge and knocked away a section of the road way.

The current bridge is 1/2 of a new bridge under construction. It opened in 2019.

As of the time the article linked above was published, Florida Dept. of Transportation hadn’t been able to inspect the bridge due to Tropical Storm Sally.

The politicians are lying pulling facts out of the air. Hurricane Sally: Pensacola Bay Bridge may be out of commission a month or more

A spokesperson for the DOT said Wednesday afternoon that staff would be inspecting the damage to local structures once conditions were safe to do so and providing updates about their status.

There is no word where that “30 to 60 days” comes from. Yes the contractor that is building the 2nd half of the bridge is onsite, but depending on the extent of the damage it might be that the equipment they need is not immediately available. And several pieces of their equipment have been damaged or destroyed… Like the barge and crane that damaged the bridge. But politicians don’t like to say “I don’t know,” or “We don’t have that information at this time.”

While I expect updates will be forthcoming, I’m not sure I care about this bridge enough to pursue it. It isn’t crumbling infrastructure, it hasn’t been ignored, it was destroy by a hurricane.

Roosevelt Bridge: Crumbling Infrastructure?

“Crumbling” is a bit of an overstatement. The Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart, Florida has stood for 24 years, and it needs serious work. The bridge was built in 1996, and carries U.S. Highway 1 (US 1). Florida bridge in danger of “imminent collapse”

Early on the Coast Guard said that it was in imminent danger of collapse, but that appears to have been overstated.

Unfortunately, there are not any good photos of this bridge. It is a box-girder bridge made of precast concrete with 40 piers. It isn’t very interesting to look at. You can find a Wikimedia Commons image at this link. But I can’t really recommend it.

In June of this year, during a regular inspection, cracks and corrosion were found in the bridge. Both the northbound and southbound spans were closed, and Dixie Highway which travels under the bridge was also closed. The northbound span was reopened at the end of June, carrying traffic in both directions, and Dixie Highway was opened on July 3rd.

If there is any good news, it is that repairs didn’t cost as much as originally estimated. Southbound Roosevelt Bridge could be open to motorists as soon as October.

The estimate to design and repair the southbound Roosevelt Bridge is $9.3 million, said Beth Frady, FDOT’s communications director. She said the amount could change if extra work is needed that wasn’t previously found or if weather causes delays or problems.

The initial estimate was for more than twice that amount.

Now Stuart is right on the Atlantic Ocean, and the water of St Lucie River at the point where this bridge stands is saltwater. Saltwater is hard on concrete and steel. (Rust Never Sleeps is not just the name of a Neil Young/Crazy Horse album.) But they knew that when the bridge was designed and built. The Indian River Bridge on Florida Route A1A, which is a bascule bridge in Fort Pierce, about 10 or 20 miles north of the Roosevelt Bridge, was built in 1963, and it is still operating, though it is listed in Poor Shape overall, getting a score of 49.9 out of 100. It does still “open on request” for boats using the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway. So you can build infrastructure to last in that environment.

Bridge Weight Limits Exist for a Reason

Not to make your life difficult. Truck driver escapes injury when Missouri bridge collapses

The bridge, which was single lane on a gravel road, had a weight limit of 5 tons. There is isn’t any info on the semi tractor-trailer in particular, but they routinely weigh 40 tons. The bridge did not survive. has photos of the bridge before the collapse. What this guy was thinking is an open question.

[Osage County Sheriff Michael] Bonham said his office is trying to determine why the large truck was in the area.

The only thing that comes to mind is he was either lost, and just following his GPS blindly, or he was overweight and trying to avoid a state-police scale.

At least no one died. But people have died because some truckers think that weight limits are just to make their lives difficult.

Genova San Giorgio Viaduct Replaces Collapsed Bridge In Genoa, Italy

On August 14th, 2018, a major bridge in the port city of Genoa collapsed, killing 43 people. 0n August 3rd of 2020, the new bridge was dedicated. Since construction really only began in April of 2019, that is quite spectacular. Rapid Replacement of Collapsed Italy Bridge Could Be Project Management Model, Says Contractor. The official name of the new bridge is Viadotto Genova San Giorgio

That article isn’t too interesting, though I reference it for the image of the new bridge under construction (click thru), and because most of the articles on the opening of the new bridge are focused on the political controversy of the day. Namely, the company that maintained (or failed to maintain) the bridge that collapsed will be in charge of maintaining the new bridge.

No image from public record is included. Since the bridge has only just opened there are apparently no images available. There are number of videos of the construction, but very few of them are in English. There are a few, but they mostly fall into advertising for the various companies involved, “news stories” that are not very informative, or what I can only call propaganda. Italy has been hard hit by COVID-19, and this is a real success. They also have a mess with their infrastructure, which was shown when the old bridge collapsed.

Info on the collapse of the old Morandi Bridge can be found at this link.

The video below is a time-lapse of a section of the bridge-deck being raised into position for the new bridge.

The video at this link shows them getting the section of bridge deck lifted over the railroad and ready for raising. The audio is annoying, and ads no value, but it does show the machines used to maneuver this giant piece of constructed bridge, so that the cranes could lift it into position. It looks like the railroad was closed for about 1 day. Perhaps that stretched to 2 days to allow some of the welding to be completed. Not too shabby.

If you follow the links thru the “Collapse of the old…” bridge above, you will find that all 18 piers that hold up the new bridge are of uniform design. This meant that the same formwork could be used over and over, assembly-line fashion. The major sections of deck could be built on the ground and raised into position between each of the piers. From April of 2019 to August of 2020 isn’t too shabby for building a bridge of this size and height.

The specs from Structurae lists the total length as 1,067 meters, it has 18 piers and 19 spans, it contains 15,000 tonnes of steel and 67,000 cubic meters of concrete.

For an explanation of the political fallout from the Morandi Bridge collapse, you can see the video at this link. It is an 8 minute video, which touches briefly on the Morandi Bridge, and the new construction, and looks at how the state of the infrastructure was reached in that section of Italy.

‡ A tonne or a metric ton is 1,000 kilograms, or a little more than 2200 pounds. Also known as a megagram, though that is rarely remembered. It rhymes with con.

Abandoned Railway Stations

Some beautiful buildings were built for rail travel. A lot of them, all over the world, have been abandoned. Fascinating stories behind the world’s abandoned train stations.

Some places you can almost understand, like Gary Indiana. People no longer take the train to Chicago, or not as many do. (I don’t remember if the commuter lines run that far or not.) But the space in California surprised me. Though it being where it is, it has been used for a movie set from time to time.

The number of stations abandoned in Europe, even in cities like Paris, was surprising, but the Swanbourne Station, in Buckinghamshire, England was what really surprised me, because not only is the station abandoned, but it is clear that the railroad itself is no longer in use. I thought the Europeans were all about traveling by rail.

Anyway, the photos are beautiful, and the image of rail travel 100 years, or more, ago is fascinating.

“It is such a pillage of the taxpayers.”

California’s high-speed rail to nowhere is still a mess. ‘Horrible sequence of mistakes’: How bullet train contractors botched a bridge project.

So they needed to build a bridge with a span of 636 feet to allow car/truck traffic to cross the high-speed rail right-of-way, and part of the existing freight tracks. This is not the longest bridge ever built, but before it was even completed, it started to fall down.

High-strength steel strands supporting the 636-foot-long structure began to snap on Oct. 22, one after another. Ultimately, 23 of the strands, which are comprised of seven individual wires each, broke unexpectedly, according to rail authority documents and officials. The order to stop work was issued Nov. 4.

A forensic engineering analysis, obtained by The Times, found that the strands corroded from rainwater that had leaked into the internal structure of the bridge and then broke.

The bureaucracy on the rail project is amazing, even by 21st Century government standards. And everyone is pointing the finger at everyone. And in the meantime people are stuck. Construction, which was supposed to take a year, is now up to 4. Detours around the site are long.

“The layers on this project are onerous,” said William Ibbs, a UC Berkeley civil engineering professor who has consulted on high-speed-rail projects around the world. “The levels of administration and review are very unusual. No one company is going to be wholly to blame if something goes wrong, because they can spread the blame around.”

Post tensioned concrete for structures are not new. They are used to build most parking garages today, a lot of highway bridges. This is just stupid. And the fact that they have arranged things so that no one will be held accountable is criminal.

And to review, the 20-billion-dollar high-speed rail, if it is ever complete, will connect Merced to Bakersfield. Merced is more than 100 miles from Oakland and the Bay Area, and Bakersfield is more than 100 miles from Los Angeles. Given that high-speed-rail is NOT freight, this won’t be an auto-train, so you will need some way to get from Bakersfield to LA, or from Merced to the Bay Area. I’m sure that they will have bus or train service (if possible) but not high-speed. And given that you can currently fly round-trip from San Jose to LA for about 110 bucks, and be dropped at the airport where there are lots of rental cars… So what is the purpose of this train? To prove the insanity of government? (Hat tip to William Teach)

A 100-year-old Bit of Infrastructure Burns

From earlier this week… Freight bridges are usually very well maintained, but things do go wrong. UP Train Derails, Catches Fire on Bridge: Report.

The stories of the incident are not too enlightening, but if you click thru, the images that accompany this story are pretty amazing.

“At around 6:15 a.m. PT, July 29, a Union Pacific mixed freight train derailed on a bridge in Tempe, Ariz.,” UP said in a statement to Railway Age. “Eight to 10 railcars were on fire. The south side of the bridge collapsed and railcars fell into an empty park below. The bridge received its annual inspection July 9, 2020. The Phoenix Fire Department is on the scene. One person was treated for smoke inhalation. The train crew is uninjured. Three tank cars were on the ground under the bridge. Two contained cyclohexanone; one contained a rubber material. None are reported leaking, and no tank cars were involved in the fire. The cause of the derailment is under investigation.”

While it is a steel-truss bridge on concrete piers, it seems that there must have been some timber in the railroad’s construction for the fire to burn the way it did.

UPDATE: A section of the damaged bridge was taken down with explosive demolition. Portion of Tempe Town Lake bridge damaged in train derailment detonated.

Crews on Sunday detonated a 150-foot portion of a bridge over Tempe Town Lake, which was damaged in a train derailment last week.

You can’t expect reporters to get the words right; not when they have to do with anything technical. But the video is worth clicking thru. It’s explosive demolition!

UPDATE: It seems one of the tankers did leak. What is cyclohexanone? The chemical that leaked during the Tempe train derailment and injured 2.

Five hundred gallons of Cyclohexanone leaked before they could turn the tanker upright and contain the spill.

Cyclohexanone is frequently used in the production of nylon and is highly flammable. The chemical’s flashpoint is just 111 degrees, meaning the vapors will ignite if given a spark or open flame at that temperature.

The flashpoint is a point of concern for Glass as temperatures in Phoenix reached a scorching 118 degrees on Thursday.

It is apparently also a skin irritant, and can be an issue if the fumes are inhaled.

The 2 minute video at that last link isn’t annoying.

Loschwitz Bridge – The Blue Wonder in Dresden

Loschwitz Bridge, Dresden, Saxony, GermanyIt’s a miracle the bridge survived. Wartime Bridge: Loschwitz Bridge (Blue Miracle/ Blaue Wunder) in Dresden.

Built from 1891 to 1893, that this bridge survived is a wonder. The Blue Wonder survived the repeated bombing of Dresden Germany during WWII, including the Fire Bombing of Dresden between 13 and 15 February 1945. The SS had wired it to explode, to cut off Allied Forces, but someone cut the wires to the explosives, so it survived the end of the war, with only minor damage from all the air-raids. It then survived a campaign by the East German government to tear it down and replace it with something modern.

The image above is from WikiMedia Commons. Click for a larger view, and more information, including attribution, and links to more images.

The bridge is an iron, cantilever truss bridge. It has a total length of just over 270 meters with a longest span of 146.68 meters. Actually the name, Blue Wonder, dates to when the bridge was new, and commentators of the day didn’t expect it to survive. A span of 146 meters was something of a miracle in 1891. In German, ein blaues Wunder erleben, is an idiom that means “an unpleasant surprise.” They really did not expect it to survive.

Due to its age, there are some traffic limitations on the Loschwitz Bridge, and since it was the only Elbe crossing in that part of Dresden, this was a bit a of a problem, and there was the usual increase in city congestion as well, so Dresden built a new bridge a few miles away, The Waldschlösschen Bridge (Waldschlößchenbrücke in German). There were plans to build a bridge at that location since the mid 1990s, but the good folks at the UN’s UNESCO decided that ANY changes were bad, and once construction on the new bridge began, UNESCO revoked the Dresden area’s Wold Heritage Site status. You can find an image of the new bridge at this link. As modern, arch bridges go, it isn’t bad. It isn’t a great or beautiful bridge, but it is low-key and functional. UNESCO says we can’t have functional!

I haven’t been able to find a video of the Loschwitz Bridge that I really like, but the video linked here is a short, two minute video, of a drone flight over the bridge. It shows some of the structure of the bridge, the Elbe River, and the surrounding area. There is a lot of travelogue video on The Blue Wonder, it is a tourist destination after all, but I can’t find much on the technical aspects of the bridge.

Lake Delhi Dam Breach – July 2010

Why don’t people maintain infrastructure? If it is infrastructure that is nearly 100 years old, you can bet that it needs maintenance. While there were problems with the design, maintenance was definitely an issue. Lake Delhi Dam (Iowa, 2010). That is from Dam Failures, a project of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

Later in the week we have an anniversary of a dam failure.

Built in the 1920s for hydroelectric power, the Delhi Dam was 60 feet long, not including the powerhouse and the spillway, and 59 feet high.

The dam, which had maintained successful operations for over 90 years prior to the failure, was inspected by an Iowa Department of Natural Resources dam safety representative every five years. During the 2009 inspection, repairs to one of the three spillway gates, which was inoperable at the time, were advised. The Lake Delhi Recreation Association (LDRA), which owned and operated the dam, agreed to complete the repairs by the end of the calendar year.

That is they were to have been completed by the end of 2009. They had been started in 2010, but were not complete.

You should not have to be told to repair the spillway gate on dam if it doesn’t work. As for the design, the total available spillway volume was not sufficient to drain the reservoir, and with about 1/3 of the spillway not available, due to the non-functioning gate, disaster only required a massive storm.

Record rainfall and flooding impacted the state of Iowa during July of 2010. As a result, the area draining to Lake Delhi Dam received approximately 10 inches of rain over the course of 12 hours. This caused overtopping of the dam and its eventual failure on July 24, 2010.

The hazardous nature of the dam was never ironed out in the 90 some odd years it stood, so there was no disaster plan in place. Still, loss of life was averted. Here’s a link to a photo taken during the breach from one side of the dam.

The complete report on the incident can be found at this link. It includes a lot of info, including the image linked above and several more. And one disturbing note on inspections.

Dam inspectors performing inspections for the DNR and consulting engineering firms performing dam safety evaluations should have strong backgrounds in dam engineering and potential failure modes analysis. There were design weaknesses at Delhi Dam that an experienced dam engineer should have recognized, which likely would have led to additional investigations.

That people doing dam inspections don’t have “strong backgrounds in dam engineering” is a problem, to my way of thinking. So who is inspecting the dams? The governor’s second cousin?

If you look through my posts tagged with “Infrastructure,” the dam failures are almost always about maintenance problems, even when the inspection reports gave the dams in question a clean bill of health. “The dam has been fine for 90 years! What could go wrong?”

After the break there is video of the remains of the dam from one day after the breach, while the lake is still draining. There are quite a few videos at the link at the top of this post. Click thru, and look for the “Videos” tab.

The dam was reconstructed and the lake “reopened” in 2016.

Continue reading

Illinois Waterway Infrastructure

Starved Rock Lock and Dam, Illinois WaterayLocks and dams are a part of our infrastructure that usually only make the news when they fail, but they can serve important functions.

The Illinois Waterway is a series of canals, dams and locks that make it possible for boat traffic (mostly barges and some recreational) to travel from Chicago and Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

The image above is of the Starved Rock Lock and Dam on the Illinois Waterway, near Starved Rock State Park, just southeast of Utica, Illinois. Click the image for a larger view. It is fairly typical of the locks on this waterway. The photo shows a towboat with 13 barges on tow entering the lock. Even though they are virtually all pusher-style boats, they are still called towboats.

It is good to see some maintenance being performed to this infrastructure. Illinois Waterway Lock Closures Begin.

The long-planned closure of six Illinois River locks and dams began July 1, with the full closure of LaGrange Lock and Dam and Starved Rock Lock and Dam to extend through September 30. They were followed by the full closures of Peoria Lock and Dam and Marseilles Lock and Dam July 6, to extend through October 29.

The other 2 dams won’t be closed entirely, not that it will make much difference overall to shipping.

Dresden Island Lock and Dam in Morris, Ill., and Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Ill., are anticipated to be only partly closed, allowing for traffic to pass at night.

The work being done there is to prepare for more advanced work to be done in 2023.

The Starved Rock Lock and Dam is fairly typical of dams on this waterway. It was built in 1933. It is what’s known as a Panamax lock, the same size originally built in the Panama Canal. The lock is 600 feet long by 110 feet wide. That isn’t large enough to handle the typical 15-barge tow, plus towboat, so tows have to be broken up and passed thru the lock in turns. That lock raises or lowers boats by 19 Feet.

This work and the necessary closing of the waterway has been planned for a couple of years, and as mentioned above some of the work being done this year is just to get ready for more extensive work planned for 2023. It is a problem because the work will continue through harvest, and grains are one of the primary things carried by barge. It is so much more efficient to transport by water than to go by rail or truck, as long as you want to go where the river takes you. Comparison of Cargo Capacity Between Trucks, Trains and Barges

A standard-size barge operating on the Mississippi River has a cargo capacity of 1,500 tons, or 52,500 bushels, which works out to a colossal 3 million pounds. … Barges are normally tied together into 15 barge “tows.”

That 15 barge tow is roughly 225 jumbo-hopper rail cars, or a fleet of 870 53-foot dry vans. And the fuel required is much less, considering, though the speed is also less.

So we are taking care of our infrastructure, or at least some of it.

Malahide Viaduct Collapse

The Malahide Viaduct, also known as the Broadmeadow Viaduct for the estuary in Ireland that it crosses, is owned by Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail). How do organizations forget stuff that they knew for 150 years? It seems to happen more than it should. Malahide Viaduct (2009)

On August 21st of 2009 as an Iarnród Éireann passenger/commuter train passed over the Malahide Viaduct, the train’s engineer witnessed a section of the bridge collapse. He was able to have the dispatch center stop all traffic across the bridge, so that there were no injuries. Pier 4 was washed away, and 2 sections of the bridge collapsed.

First some history.

An 11 span timber viaduct was first built here in 1843, for the Dublin and Drogheda Railway and a problem with settlement, noticed soon after construction, was solved by depositing huge quantities of stone around the timber support piers, thereby creating a type of weir. Erosion remained a problem, despite continuous efforts to combat it and in 1860 a new bridge opened with masonry piers supporting wrought iron spans. By 1968, 12 spans of prestressed concrete had replaced the much deteriorated, Victorian iron across the 176 metres of the viaduct. The stone weir remained vital to the stability of the overall structure.

While the stone weir remained vital to the structure, that knowledge was lost, because we don’t need to manage infrastructure, the bridge is obviously fine, or so everyone thought right up until it collapsed.

Ongoing maintenance of the weir had been a thing until 1996. The Malahide Viaduct Collapse. (There is a great image of the viaduct post-collapse at the top of that article. Click thru.)

In 1846, two years after construction, a stone weir – which can be thought of as an underwater wall – was built. This weir did two things: it reduced the volume of water flowing in and out of the estuary; and it directly protected the sediment at the base of the piles – the scour forces would first need to dig away this rock protection before they could begin to compromise the structure. But this wasn’t enough – the rock protection was eroding. So to keep this rock wall in place, stones had to be continually discharged along the weir to replace those that were lost.

Then in 1860 the timber piles were replaced with masonry piers supported directly on top of the stone weir, and the remainder of the timber structure was replaced with wrought iron beams, which decades later were replaced with the post-tensioned concrete beams that were in place at the time of the failure.

And throughout all this work, management of the scour risk continued. For example, in 1922, a total of 5,200 tonne of stone was discharged along the viaduct, and in 1967-68 grout was injected into the stone weir to help hold it together. Then further stone discharges occurred in 1976 and 1996.

As that article notes, there was 150 years of knowledge of the impact of erosion. How do you lose track of that? Because after 1996 there was no maintenance of weir, despite the fact that a 1997 report called out scouring at the base of pier 4. The report by the Railway Accident Investigation Unit of the European Union is quite long, and I haven’t read all of it. It does address the loss of that knowledge. August 2010 Malahide Viaduct Collapse on the Dublin to Belfast Line, on the 21st August 2009.

There was a loss of corporate memory when former Iarnród Éireann staff left the Division, which resulted in valuable information in the relation to the historic scouring and maintenance not being available to the staff in place at the time of the accident.

And there was no system in place for capturing – even with pen and paper – the issues relating to infrastructure. Which precipitated…

The historic maintenance regime for the discharge of stones along the Malahide Viaduct appears to have ceased in 1996, resulting in the deterioration of the weir which was protecting the structure against scouring.

The next item of note is that the Malahide Viaduct was inspected 3 days before it collapsed. It was in “fair” shape according to the report.

An inspection carried out on the Malahide Viaduct three days before the accident did not identify the scouring defects visible at the time;

How could this be? The people doing the inspections had really no way to detect scour, and they were not trained to do so anyway.

There are other issues. A derelict barge was left stranded on the side of the viaduct for a VERY long time, and probably contributed to erosion. Because maintenance is not important.

The company confirmed the viaduct was inspected twice last week, and that it stood over those inspections. A full bridge inspection was also carried out in October 2007, with the next scheduled inspection for October.

Several people called about erosion. The bridge was “inspected” and deemed safe. We’ve seen that again and again in failing infrastructure, a “good” rating on an inspection right before failure.

The missing pier was replaced, the rest were reinforced, the track repaired and trains started traveling across the viaduct about 3 months after the collapse.

After this viaduct collapsed, Iarnród Éireann ran around and inspected 100s of other viaducts.

Here’s a video that covers various hydraulic effects due to stuff we build in the water. I have it cued up to a section on bridge piers and scouring. The relevant bit is about 1 minute long.

Taum Sauk Dam Failure

This may be a case of “New Technology is not necessarily better than old technology.” Taum Sauk Dam (Missouri, 2005).

And then there is systems design. But we’ll get to that.

The plant consisted of an Upper Reservoir situated atop Proffit Mountain contained by a kidney-shaped rockfill dike, a Lower Reservoir and Powerhouse impounded by a concrete gravity dam, and a 7,000-foot-long concrete and steel-lined tunnel that connected the two.

Built in the 1960s it took off-peak power and pumped water to the upper reservoir, and then used that water to generate hydroelectric power during peak hours. When it was built there were 2 “float” type shutoffs to keep the pumps from overfilling the reservoir, as primary and backup. For some reason I have a vision of a giant toilet-tank fill valve. But when the reservoir was maintained in 2004, that system – which had worked since the 1960s – wasn’t high-tech enough and so it was replaced with 2 pressure traducers which would sense when the water level was too high. In theory.

On Sunday, September 25, 2005 an engineering tour of the site discovered water flowing over the reservoir. The transducers had broken free. When they were replaced they were not calibrated for the new position. And new “fail-safe” probes were added. It wasn’t enough, and the dam failed on December 14th.

On December 14, 2005, the Upper Reservoir of the Taum Sauk Pump Storage Plant failed by overtopping during the final minutes of one of its pumping cycles. As a result, the reservoir’s 4,300 acre-feet volume of stored water was released from a 656-foot-wide breach in 25 minutes, traveling down Proffit Mountain toward the Black River with a peak discharge of 273,000 cfs. Before it reached the river and flowed into the Lower Reservoir where it was entirely contained, the flood destroyed 281 acres of Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and ripped the superintendent’s home from its base.

No life was lost, but about $1 billion in damage was done.

Here is how Public Radio remembered the event, in 2015. Ten-year anniversary of reservoir breach that flooded Johnson’s Shut-ins state park.

The wall of water followed the Black River and swept through Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, depositing tons of rock, boulders and sediment along the way. It also damaged the park’s lone residence, which housed park superintendent Jerry Toops, his wife, and their three children. They, too, were swept away, but all survived with only minor injuries.

You should click thru for the images; there are only 3, but worth a look. An aerial view of the devastation down the side of the mountain. The residence of the Park Superintendent after the flood. A photo of a boulder carried 1.5 miles by 1.3 billion gallons of water. I wish they had more info on the boulder; it looks to be a cube of rock about 5 feet on a side, more or less.

As for the systems design… (from the link at top.)

The “fail safe” Warrick probes failed to report the critical high water level in the reservoir because the probes had been incorrectly set at a higher elevation than the low point on the parapet. This was further compounded by system programming that required both probes to trip the pumps off-line. There was no program in place to maintain calibration of the sensors against actual reservoir levels, and no program to evaluate the actual crest elevation around the reservoir rim with respect to shut down triggers within the system programming.

What could go wrong? They were using High Tech™ sensors! So much better than that antiquated system from the 60s. Which never failed to shut down the pumps.

Anyway the reservoir was reconstructed out of roller-compacted concrete, and the rebuilt power station was opened in 2010. Along the way the owner of the generator paid some hefty fines.

Historic Bridge Repair in England

How do you repair a viaduct that is more than 150 years old, and a historic monument, and still keep the trains running on time? Historic Ribblehead viaduct threatens to collapse after walkers are hit by falling rubble from structure that cost more than 100 workers’ lives when it was built in 1870s.

  • The grade II structure has developed dangerous defects that are causing masonry to plunge off the edge 
  • It means tourists flocking to the historic attraction on the Settle-Carlisle line risk being hit by falling debris  
  • Proposals include restitching the viaduct’s 24 arches, inserting anchors and repairing rainwater systems

The viaduct opened 12 October 1870

You can’t repair a 150-year-old structure without making some changes. Which is a problem for some people. But it beats tearing down an historic structure because it is becoming unsafe.

Network Rail said minimising the risk to workers during repairs is a priority. Restitching masonry fractures, inserting anchors, reinforcing stone and repainting metalwork are included in the proposed plans.

Other proposed repairs include reinforcing stone repair mortar, repointing faulty mortar joints and repairing rainwater systems.

As they note in the title to the article, more than 100 people died during the construction.

At least they didn’t wait for the viaduct to completely collapse before starting repairs.

Rebuilding After a Disaster

The cascading failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams and the impact on the local economy. ‘And then the dam broke’: Business owners try to rebuild after devastating flood.

Gum and Long are trying to figure out how to rebuild in a town whose future is none too certain after cascading dam failures drained Sanford and Wixom lakes — and the local economy that revolved around the man-made impoundments of the Tittabawassee River.

“If there’s no people coming through to their cottages, if there’s no boating activity, I think it could be a huge challenge for that area to survive,” Gum said.

The state of Michigan denied funds to repair the Edenville dam. That request was for less than 2 million dollars. The economic impact is many times that. Destroyed businesses. Destroyed roads. Destroyed homes.

As is usually the case with articles like this, it focuses on one business, with insights from a few others, but that means there isn’t much in the way of total impact numbers to be found anywhere. Maybe the state doesn’t know yet. The business in question, a restaurant, is out somewhere between 250,000 and 1 million dollars.

And while this article doesn’t say, it seems that most people, downriver from two, 100-year-old dams, didn’t have flood insurance. In case you don’t know, your homeowners’ insurance won’t cover flooding. If you live downstream from a dam, you might consider it.

Michigan Dams in the News After the Failure of the Edenville Dam

There are several stories about dams in Michigan in the news; I will deal with 2.

There are a lot of articles throwing mud on the dam’s owners, but the .gov also had a hand in the collapse. Standoff between state agencies and Boyce Hydro may have sealed dams’ fates.

Adversarial relations between Boyce Hydro and state agencies may have had a pronounced contribution to the massive flooding that required the evacuation of nearly 11,000 Midland and Gladwin county residents last month and destroyed or significantly damaged hundreds of homes when the Edenville Dam in Gladwin County failed, causing the Sanford Dam in Midland County to breach.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources denied a grant of 1.6 million dollars to fix the dam. And this article doesn’t say, but from previous research, I know the state kept the dam from being drained because they were worried about an endangered fresh water mussel. My previous post on the failure of this dam can be found at this link.

Other dams in Michigan are at least getting some scrutiny. Remove, repair or remain? Washtenaw County’s aging dams face expensive solutions.

The City of Ann Arbor has stayed on top of maintenance of its aging dams acquired from Detroit Edison in the 1960s after power generation was decommissioned. There are six dams in the city, including two private dams on the north end.

The dams are each at least 100 years old and, although listed in “fair” condition, have a “high hazard” potential, meaning a failure would be life-threatening for people living downstream, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Overall, Washtenaw County’s 29 dams have an average age of 83 years, while the average age in the state is 74.

But they are maintaining the dams. Which is what needs to happen for every dam. And nothing lasts forever; the day a dam is built people should start saving for its replacement. Even if that is 100 years in the future, it should not come as a shock to anyone.

There are many articles, as Congress is getting involved. What could go wrong? They want to know “How did this happen?” Personally I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

Eiffel Built More than a Tower

Still one of the most beautiful bridges in the world – Garabit Railway Viaduct.

As usual, click the image for a larger view, and more information. (Photo by Geertchaos) Earlier photos will show a river valley. A dam was built in 1959 to create the reservoir.

Specs on the bridge are as follows.

  • Location: St. Flour, Auvergne, France
  • Height: 407 feet / 124 meters
  • Span: 540 feet / 165 meters

Construction was completed in 1884, 5 years before the tower would be built.

The bridge is still in use as a railway viaduct, but with speed restrictions.

Until 11 September 2009, one regular passenger train each way passed daily over the viaduct: a Corail route from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers. On that date, the viaduct closed after cracks were discovered in one of the foundation piles.[7] After a safety inspection, the Garabit viaduct reopened the following month, with a speed limit of 10 km/h (6 mph) for all traffic.

If you click the link at the top of this post, there are many photos of the bridge. It has stood for a long time, after all.

Back in December, I had a post on The Millau Viaduct, this bridge turned up in the comments.

Keystone Added to I-74 Arch Bridge

I am usually writing about failed or rotting infrastructure. But not all stories are doom and gloom. Crowds come out to watch crews complete first I-74 bridge arch. The piece was installed May 5th.

The I-74 bridge across the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa is old, and in bad shape. To fix that 2 new spans are under construction. True-arch, basket-handle bridges are being built just upstream of the existing bridges. They will carry 4 lanes in each direction.

The bridge joins Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, Illinois, and is pretty much right in the middle of The Quad Cities region. The other 2 cities are Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. The first span of the existing bridge was built in 1935. A second bridge built to the same design was added in 1961. It is handling almost twice the number of vehicles the design called for, and it is NOT up to interstate highway standards.

While on a tour at the base of the bridge in Bettendorf in May 2012, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that, in comparison with other bridges that he has seen in other states, the current I-74 Bridge is one of the worst he’s seen.

The keystone, or center piece of the arch, of the first span was put in place during the first week in May. A 100,000 pound chunk of steel. raised about 200 feet in the air. The video at the news story linked at the top of this post is about 2 minutes long, and is not too annoying. Other videos will play after the first video if you take no action.

This is a short video, about 1 minute, from April showing the stage of construction just prior to the keystone being placed. You can see the temporary towers and cables supporting the arch as it is built, and get a feeling for the size and the design. It isn’t my favorite video, but at a minute, it seems to capture what is important. There are more videos, and they are easy enough to find, that are in the 5-6 minute range, taken anytime from January through Easter, if you’re interested in more detailed views of the construction.

You can find an artist’s rendering of the new design at this link.

There is a longer video of the process of getting the keystone in place, but it is 45 minutes, or more, and not particularly interesting. I can’t really recommend it, but I include if for completeness.