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Lowe's Walkway Collapse Raises Concerns About Pedestrian Bridge Safety, Inspections

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CONCORD — Corroded cable supports may be the cause of a pedestrian walkway collapse at the Lowe's Motor Speedway. More than 100 people were injured Saturday night when the walkway split in two, dropping people 17 feet to the ground.

Track owners say the bridge was recently inspected. State engineers say track inspectors must have missed serious signs of trouble, like cracks in the concrete.

The accident is also raising questions about who inspects other private walkways, bridges and overpasses.

A pedestrian walkway at theState Legislaturewas built in 1983. Per state guidelines, it is inspected every two years; the last inspection was in November 1998.

"If there is a problem with a bridge, we will find it," says John Emerson, one of the engineers responsible for inspecting 50 state-owned pedestrian walkways every two years.

"You would look for cracks in concrete members, rust in steel members," he says.

Thirty seven other pedestrian walkways over state roads are owned by municipalities, companies or individuals. They do not fall under the jurisdiction of the state and may never be inspected.

"We inspect every two years, and private bridges, I would assume, if they're going to be carrying the public like the ones in Charlotte, they should be inspected often," says Emerson.

There are no guarantees that private bridges are ever inspected. Neither the state nor the federal government has jurisdiction over private bridges.

"They're private, they're private. So it's up to the owner to determine whether it should be inspected," says Paul Simon of the Federal Highway Administration.

The state checks to make sure there is adequate clearance for vehicles under private bridges. That means they also keep track of walkways over state roads.

There are literally hundreds of pedestrian walkways on private property which are inspected only at the owner's discretion.

The state's 36 bridge inspectors already have their hands full without worrying about private property.

There are more than 17,000 state-owned bridges and culverts. During the last round of inspections, more than 2,600 were labeled deficient and more than 3,000 were labeled as obsolete.


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