Traffic

Software moves bridge inspections to fast lane

Posted September 1, 2009 6:37 p.m. EDT
Updated September 1, 2009 7:02 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Transportation has developed an award-winning software program to speed bridge inspections and repairs statewide.

Engineers say one-fifth of the bridges in North Carolina need to be replaced because of structural issues or age. The state doesn't have the money to pay for all of those projects, so the DOT is focusing on bridge maintenance and trying to pinpoint potential problems as quickly as possible.

The DOT has 25 inspection teams responsible for 18,000 bridges statewide, as well as hundreds of culverts and overhead signs. Inspectors used to file reports using pencil and paper and mail them to engineers for review, but the department developed a program to record the data on tablet computers and upload it directly to DOT central computers.

"I like it better than the way we used to do it," inspector Wayne Wilkerson said. "Everything is broken down into sections of the inspection."

Being able to record information in the field means they don't have to drive back to the office to file the inspection reports, which officials said used to take up to two hours a day.

"We gain some time so we can do either more bridges a month, or we can spend the time to take a closer look when we need to," inspector Bo May said.

Uploading the reports to the DOT computer network also allows engineers to make decisions more quickly about which bridges to fix.

"The head engineer will decide how critical it is and what length of time it needs to be fixed, as in immediately, (within) 30 days (or) six months," May said.

DOT engineer Lacy Love marvels at the new system, saying he used to wait up to two weeks to get an inspection report through the mail.

"Just like that, I've got the report," Love said about the software program. "The time savings is incredible."

The DOT spent about $1 million to develop the Wearable Inspection Grading Information Network System, or WIGINS. The system, which is named in honor of Carson Wiggins, a bridge maintenance engineer who began development of the software before he died, was recently honored by Computerworld magazine for using technology to benefit society.

North Carolina is the first state to implement a software-based bridge inspection system, and DOT officials estimate that it could save state taxpayers about $3 million a year.