The Neglected Bridges

VG has been given access to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA)’s digital database for bridges on national and county roads – a total of 16,971 bridges.

In 2002, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration discovered that this bridge had critical damage

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In their opinion, the damage

posed a threat to the bridge’s load capacity

Action was only taken when VG started asking questions 15 years later

The neglected bridges

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ACROSS NORWAY (VG) When the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA) discovers that critical damage to a bridge’s load capacity has occurred, it is required by law to take action in the course of 6 months. VG can now reveal that bridges across the whole of Norway with this kind of damage remain unrepaired for several years.

Last week VG published status reports for Norway’s 16,971 bridges on national and county roads. The reports revealed that a majority of the bridges had not been inspected as required by law.

According to the reports, 1087 of the bridges have what the NPRA itself calls large or critical damage in relation to load capacity or traffic safety.

The most severe damage a bridge can have is critical damage to the load capacity. When VG gained access to the register, we found 49 bridges over 5 metres with critical damages to load capacity that had remained unrepaired for more than six months.

0 yrs
6 mths
1 yr
2 yrs
3 yrs
4 yrs
5 yrs
10 yrs
15 yrs
20 yrs

VG has visited all 49 bridges ...

... in fifteen counties

This is what we found:

Nine of the bridges had been repaired

Work was in progress on four of the bridges during VG’s visit

When VG started asking questions, it emerged that the NPRA had changed its mind and no longer thought that the damage was critical for 15 of the bridges

This means that 21 of the bridges had critical damage to load capacity when VG visited them

The regulations require that such damage should be secured or repaired as soon as it is detected or at the latest within six months

Here you can see how long the bridges have had critical damage

Below you can see the 21 bridges with the most severe degree of damage where the NPRA has failed to take the required action. Click on the bridge to read the report.

The article continues below the presentation of the bridges.

Akershus, 22 mths.
Oppland, 59 mths.
Oppland, 11 mths.
Telemark, 17 mths.
Telemark, 16 mths.
Vest-Agder, 39 mths.
Rogaland, 157 mths.
Rogaland, 49 mths.
Hordaland, 23 mths.
Hordaland, 25 mths.
Hordaland, 47 mths.
Hordaland, 181 mths.
Hordaland, 21 mths.
Sør-Trøndelag, 23 mths.
Sør-Trøndelag, 23 mths.
Nordland, 10 mths.
Nordland, 46 mths.
Nordland, 239 mths.
Finnmark, 144 mths.
Finnmark, 47 mths.
Finnmark, 98 mths.

One of these bridges is Matredalen bridge in the north of Hordaland. Here a steel girder bridge carries county road 382 over the River Matreelva. The bridge, which was built in 1943 and later rebuilt, was registered as having critical damage in relation to load capacity 15 years ago. The girders showed considerable corrosion damage.

Image description
CRITICAL: The steel girders from the war years show considerable corrosion damage. Click to read the report on this bridge. Foto: Hallgeir Vågenes

In 2013, the NPRA discovered yet another instance of critical damage when they found that one of the pillars on which the bridge rests, had sunk into the river.

VG has shown photographs of the Matredalen bridge to several of Norway’s leading bridge experts.

Image description
SCEPTICAL: Professor Kolbein Bell of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) examines photographs of the Matredalen bridge. In the background, his colleague Terje Kanstad. Foto: Jørgen Braastad

‘No matter who looks at these photographs, the conclusion must be that this is not good. It’s difficult to see from the photos how much steel is left. But this is a process that will continue until nothing is left,’ says Professor Kolbein Bell of the Department of Structural Engineering at NTNU.

‘Will be replaced next year’

The NPRA in Hordaland says that it has taken a number of measures in Matredalen after being questioned by VG.

‘Why has the bridge been allowed to remain with this damage for such a long time?’

‘Since VG drew attention to the case, we’ve verified the load capacity of the bridge,’ answers Grethe Vikane, Head of Division in NPRA in Hordaland.

Vikane says that new calculations reveal that the load capacity is sufficient even though the girders’ cross section has been reduced because of rust.

She adds that basic maintenance measures have also been carried out because of VG’s reporting of the case.

‘The NPRA’s plan is that the entire bridge will be replaced in 2018,’ says Vikane.

Altogether, the NPRA has implemented measures for five of its bridges as a direct consequence of VG’s questions.

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‘Should repair them or close them’

The Brutus database shows that over 1000 bridges have damage that the NPRA itself describes as serious or critical in relation to traffic safety or load capacity.

Image description
CHECK THE CRACK! This bridge is on the E6 route at Porsangerfjorden. The damage was registered as critical to load capacity four years ago. Foto: Vidar Kristensen

VG has shown several of Norway’s leading experts on technical engineering and bridges examples of the most severe damage. The professors describe the condition of the bridges as alarming, saying that the findings reveal several instances of neglect.

‘What immediately strikes me as most serious are the corroded steel girders carrying the substructure. There’s no margin of safety. If they break, then the bridge will collapse,’ says Professor Kolbein Bell of NTNU in Trondheim.

Image description
BRIDGE EXPERTS: Professors Mette Rica Geiker, Kolbein Bell and Terje Kanstad of NTNU. Foto: Jørgen Braastad

‘For some of the examples you show, it’s crucial to repair the bridge or close it to traffic fairly quickly. It will be interesting to hear the explanation as to why this hasn’t been done,’ says Associate Professor Mahdi Kioumarsi, who is a researcher on concrete bridges at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.

Troubled bridge over water

Several articulated lorries and trucks crossed the bridge over the Furuberg waterfall when VG visited Hordaland at the beginning of September. The bridge carrying county road 551 over the untamed waterfall has several concrete pillars embedded in the ground.

As early as June 2005, the inspectors noted that these pillars were constantly being struck by loose stones and that this has led to concrete flaking off the pillars. Three years ago, they believed that the damage was so severe that it critically affected the load capacity.

VG visited the Furuberg waterfall: See the photos and read the report

‘It’s dangerous that such a lot of concrete is flaking off the pillar in this area. Here conditions are changing all the time between wet and dry, and the concrete may also react strongly to salt and minerals,’ says Kioumarsi.

Image description
SCEPTICAL: Associate Professor Mahdi Kioumarsi. Foto: Odin Jæger

He adds that it’s difficult to say for certain how serious the damage is without closer investigation.

Three weeks after VG visited the waterfall, work on repairing the pillars had started up. The regional unit informs us that repair of the pillars has been included in a general contract for Hordaland in 2015–2016, but that the contractors had not managed to carry out the work earlier because of the volume of water in the waterfall.

Click here to see all 16,971 bridges on the map – and read the reports for the individual bridges.

Blame a shortage of money

VG has contacted all the country’s regional units, who have responsibility for inspecting and maintaining bridges. Several have told us that there’s not enough money to prioritise everything that should have been done, and that even bridges with critical damage are not always given the highest priority when the funds are allocated.

Image description
NORWEGIAN RECORD: The Strauman 3 bridge in Nordland was recorded as having critical damage to load capacity on 9 October 1997. In other words, it has been in this critical condition for 20 years. Click to see the report on this bridge. Foto: Jørgen Braastad

In their written responses, everyone states that a high degree of damage registered in the Brutus database does not necessarily mean that actual physical measures will be taken by the deadline. Damage and consequence assessments must be carried out – and after that, repairs will be assessed in relation to other measures such as a reduced speed limit, a lower weight limit, more frequent inspections and continuous measurements.

‘The financial aspect is also an important element. We must prioritise within our given parameters,’ says Marianne Eilertsen, Head of Division in NPRA’s Northern Region.

‘So, what is the point of setting a deadline?’

‘The deadline requirement is described in a 20-year-old manual. In many cases, more recent guidelines, including for the budget process, will override this manual,’ according to Eilertsen.

How we did it

  • 1. The NPRA’s database is called Brutus. This is a bridge management system that the NPRA itself has developed. Each bridge has its own health status journal.

  • 2. In March, VG was given access to the database via PDF files for all of the 16,971 bridges on Norway’s national and country roads, where the NPRA is responsible.

  • 3. Based on these data, VG has visited 104 bridges in 15 counties.

  • 4. Analysis of the reports and VG’s own observations show that the NPRA systematically breaks the rules they are required to follow in order to ensure that Norwegian road bridges are safe.

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Just as dangerous tomorrow

The Road Supervisory Authority (RSA), whose task is to ensure that the NPRA abides by rules and regulations, says that it does not inspire confidence that severe damage remains unrepaired for years without any action being taken.

‘The damage must be recorded and the information must reach those who are authorised to make a decision. And then some action must be taken – whether this is corrective measures or repairs,’ says Director Trude Tronerud Andersen of the NPRA.

‘Do you have the impression that this happens?’

‘Well, we see from Brutus that it certainly doesn’t happen systematically.’

Image description
RSA: Journalist Øyvind Engan (left) shows VG's findings to Haakon Innset, roads adviser and Director Trude Tronerud Andersen of the Road Supervisory Authority. Foto: Hallgeir Vågenes

The answer is the same for many of the critically damaged bridges: It has been decided to build a new bridge – in the meantime the bridges remain in place but little is done to fix the damage.

‘One way or another, they must undertake corrective measures until the new bridge is in place. The old bridge will be just as dangerous tomorrow even if a new bridge is to be built 10 years from now,’ says Andersen.

Image description
CORROSION: The Kiby bridge on the E75 in Vadsø. A new bridge is planned but the damage has existed for 12 years. Click to read the report on this bridge. Foto: Tom Olav Stavseth

Billion backlog

‘The fact that a bridge will be replaced means that we must constantly check that it is safe, and we do,’ says Director Jane Bordal, Head of the Roads and Transport Department at the Directorate of Public Roads.

The NPRA states that the maintenance backlog for Norway’s bridges amounts to NOK 15 billion. The regional units have an annual budget of NOK 300−400 million to carry out maintenance of bridges on the national roads. Each individual county authority decides the budget for bridges on the county roads.

‘Does the NPRA have money to follow up and make the necessary repairs to all critically damaged bridges?’

‘The regions prioritise within the budget frameworks they are granted. So of course it’s a challenge to eke out the money as far as possible so that we can achieve the action points we feel are necessary to keep our bridges safe,’ says Bordal.

Image description
ANSWER: Communications Adviser Kjell Solem, Director Jane Bordal and Head of Section Morten Wright Hansen of the NPRA. Foto: Hallgeir Vågenes

Head of Section Morten Wright Hansen says that safety is taken into account when prioritising maintenance.

‘We do not know of any bridges carrying traffic that are dangerous in terms of load capacity,’ says Hansen.

‘You are confident that the regions have a good overview. But as the national roads authority, do you have the same overview when this is not registered?’

‘This is poorly documented in our systems,’ Bordal admits.

The head of section adds that the NPRA has recently reviewed the entire stock of bridges in Norway with the aim of raising the standard, and as a result they have acquired a better overview than ever before.

‘After we started asking questions, the critical damage level at 13 bridges was adjusted downwards. If you have a good overview, how can a bridge have critical damage for years without anyone noticing that something was wrong?’

‘This is to do with updates in Brutus. There’s a backlog in the updating, as the NPRA has pointed out,’ says Hansen.

Image description
ADJUSTED DOWNWARDS: One cubic metre of stone had broken away from the foundation of the Steindalselv bridge in Troms. The damage has now been adjusted downwards from 16 to 9 on the severity scale. Click to read the report on this bridge. Foto: Jørgen Braastad

‘VG’s round of visits to critically damaged bridges revealed that nothing had happened, and also that no information on action points had been recorded, so how do you know that it’s safe?’

‘Our managers review the damage and have an overview of whether the bridges are safe to drive across. They will prioritise action points so that we maintain safety,’ says Jane Bordal.

Here you can see all the bridges that had critical damage to load capacity according to the Brutus database, and that have later been adjusted downwards or repaired.

Damage rating adjusted downwards (15 bridges)
Work initiated (4 bridges)
Work completed (9 bridges)

Published: 13 November 2017


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