Audit finds Hoan failure unavoidable
Published: October 25, 2001
By Jeremy Harrell
Daily Reporter Staff
State bridge inspectors could not have predicted last year’s failure of the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee, but the span didn’t get necessary attention in the months prior to the collapse, according to a state report issued Thursday. National bridge experts and federal officials concluded the cracks in the Hoan Bridge developed so suddenly that the state Department of Transportation could not have detected them, according to a state audit of the DOT’s Bridge Inspection Program. The audit also stated, however, that inspectors did not conduct routine tests of the bridge as required by law. The audit, combined with a report outlining the causes of the Hoan failure, have prodded state transportation officials to reconsider the designs of several bridges with structural characteristics similar to the Hoan, said Bruce Karow, DOT chief structural maintenance engineer. “There are details on the Hoan that won’t be used anymore,” he said. The DOT is already planning to retrofit the Menonomee Valley Bridge in Milwaukee, one of 21 Wisconsin spans built like the Hoan Bridge, he said. There are no plans yet for work on the remaining 20 bridges, Karow said.
Prompted by the Hoan failure, the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee asked the state’s Audit Bureau to review the Bridge Inspection Program. The bureau concluded that while the bridge inspection team follows proper federal guidelines, the state doesn’t carry out many inspections in the two-year timeframe dictated by federal regulations. From January 1996 through 1999, only 1.5 percent of routine inspections didn’t meet the two-year deadline. That figure jumped to nearly 16 percent in the last year, however. Until Karow saw the report Thursday, he said he and his colleagues didn’t know inspectors had to follow a strict 24-month schedule. “We thought every two years meant that we had to go out to inspect a bridge in, say, 1998, and then do it again sometime in 2000,” Karow said. “Now we know that if we inspect a bridge in June 1998, we have to do it again by June 2000.”
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Karow said it’s too early to comment on what sort of changes are in the works for the Bridge Inspection Program and for the state’s bridge builders. He did, however, call the audit “fair,” and said that generally these types of reports help his office perform better. “Any time you have another set of eyes looking at the program, they can suggest changes we may not have seen,” Karow said. The audit included two additional discoveries:
- In 2000, nearly 9 percent of all state bridges were structurally deficient. Wisconsin has the third-highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges among seven Midwestern states, according to the audit.
- The Audit Bureau found that the DOT uses an outdated method of counting daily traffic on two-thirds of the state’s 3,256 bridges. Daily traffic flow is an important measure of a bridge’s condition and in part determines federal funding for bridge repairs, the audit stated. With a revamped system, Wisconsin’s share of federal repair funds could jump beyond the $27.2 million the DOT received last year, freeing up more money for repair jobs.
Madison writer Jeremy Harrell can be reached at 608-260-8570 or by email.