ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge
Civil engineering met the X-games yesterday afternoon on the Anthony Wayne Bridge.
“It's as good as any ride at Cedar Point,” said Rodney Crouch, an Ohio Department of Transportation inspector from rural McClure, Ohio, after rappelling more than 100 feet down the side of the Maumee River span's western tower.
But Mr. Crouch and three other ODOT engineers weren't there just to amuse themselves. Rappelling class was the final lesson in a three-day course to teach them methods for inspecting big bridges, such as the cable-stayed span that soon will carry I-280 over the Maumee.
Rappelling is just about the only way to inspect bridge piers that don't have ladders on them, said Michael Seal, an instructor from Burgess & Niple, a Columbus engineering firm.
The ODOT employees - along with a Burgess & Niple employee being trained for company work - scooted down the tower yesterday without doing any tests. During an actual inspection, instructor Barrett McMurtry said, they would crisscross their way down, looking for cracks or flaws and tapping concrete piers with hammers to listen for trouble.
The instructors had escorted a different group of ODOT employees up the bridge's cables and towers April 9, but that was part of a less-intensive class to familiarize them with working on tall structures, Mr. McMurtry said.
“Everything that [the first group] learned, these guys are learning, but these guys are learning a lot more,” he said.
After spending Monday in the classroom, the inspector group on Tuesday morning did some short-distance rappelling from underneath the bridge and practiced climbing and walking through the steel beams and braces there.
The tower-rappelling exercise had been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but was scrubbed by the instructors because of high wind. Rather than miss that opportunity, however, all but one of the inspector students agreed to go back yesterday afternoon on their own time to give it another try.
“We were all kind of bummed that we couldn't do it [Tuesday],” Mr. Crouch said.
The student who skipped yesterday's exercise had admitted on Tuesday to having a fear of heights. If the others were afraid going up the suspension cable to the top of the tower yesterday, they weren't saying so after they came down on a rope.
“I knew I was secure, but then you also realize you're 100-plus feet up,” said Brett Morris of Toledo. “It was a rush.”
“Stepping off isn't bad. The worst part is climbing over the top of the tower to get to where you step off,” said Terry Marsh, the Burgess & Niple trainee.
Preparations for building approach spans for the $220 million bridge have begun, and work on the main tower, or pylon, in the Maumee River is to begin after June 1. The pylon, from which the main span's support stays will radiate, will rise about 375 feet above the river, making it one of the tallest structures in Toledo. The bridge deck will be 120 to 140 feet above the water.
“The whole skyline is going to look different. I can hardly wait to get it done,” said Jack Gesualdo, an ODOT engineer from Cleveland who's been assigned to work on the I-280 project.