State and local transportation departments across the country are currently experiencing difficult budget tightening measures in the face of a struggling economy. Revenues are decreasing amidst a shrinking tax base, and hiring freezes are occurring in the public sector just as it is in the private sector. Still, transportation departments must find ways to maintain safe systems for citizens. Bridge inspections aided by camera-mounted drones are becoming a popular option to alleviate the difficulties of working within these new labor and budget restrictions.
Conventional bridge inspections are tedious, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous. State and local transportation departments have a responsibility to keep the bridges safe, so inspections must proceed regardless of available manpower. Modern inspection drones can access parts of the bridge too difficult or dangerous for manual inspectors. The maneuverability of the drones makes inspection tasks quicker and it can be more accurate since a drone can access difficult spaces and record images for further analysis after the on-site drone work if completed.
The 2007 I-35 highway bridge collapse in Minneapolis drew national attention to the crumbling condition of bridges around the country. It sent state transportation officials around the country scrambling to perform bridge inspections in their own state before they became the next nation-wide disaster headline. Dangerous structures were identified and closed or replaced, but the burden of bridge inspections remain a high priority. A 2015 study performed by the state of Minnesota Department of Transportation concluded that drone inspections were a viable cost-cutting, safer method for bridge inspections.
Half of the states in the country have over 10,000 bridges. Without the assistance of drones, that’s going to require a lot of cranes, lifts, ropes, and eyeballs to maintain effective inspections. National infrastructure improvements are currently being discussed in the Washington D.C. as a part of the economic rebound plans. Inspection drones can help state and local planners assess bridge conditions more efficiently so they can maximize these infrastructure funds. Outsourcing drone-powered bridge inspections to state-approved private contractors is a very cost-effective way to complete a thorough bridge inspection plan. With 3D mapping tools and GPS-enabled recording features, there are several other areas where drones could be useful for infrastructure project planning.
Bridge inspections are not for the weekend drone hobbyist. There’s a lot riding on the quality of the inspection process. States using drone bridge inspections have enacted strict guidelines for safety and quality measures. Be sure your drone contractor understands the qualifications and certification requirements. Most work is performed in conjunction with qualified structural engineering firms experienced in traditional bridge inspections. They know where to look for signs of decay and damage, and they can direct the drone operator exactly how to perform the inspection. Properly equipped drones can detect the smallest of details like missing nuts and bolts or minor concrete shrinkage cracks. But the drone operator must be experienced and professional to provide this level of detail required of drone bridge inspections. Many inspection project bids for multiple bridge site inspections will require a fleet of drones to complete the task most cost-effectively. Though less expensive than traditional bridge inspection equipment, the cost of multiple drones and supporting systems rule out small-scale drone operators.
Shrinking budgets in government agencies at every level are causing bridge inspections to become a disproportionate amount of work and expense for transportation departments. While the need for more bridge inspections continues to grow, the available workforce required of manual inspections is shrinking. Transportation departments are relying more on outsourced inspection services from private contractors. Private contractors are forced to find more cost-effective methods as they battle for these highly competitive bids. Drone bridge inspections are a great resource that cuts costs and improves work accuracy. Learn more about cost-effective drone bridge inspection services from Mile High Drones.