Sunday, March 11, 2012

Disraeli Freeway. The story is full of holes.

This post has been a while in the making. I was almost disappointed when the regular media picked up on the story of Kaitlyn Fraser again. I’m not disappointed that they reported on it… just what they reported. Typical pablum . This post is a little long, so we’ll stray from the norm and add pictures. I know I always find it easier to get through a story if there are pictures to look at (think Dr. Suess).
These reporters go to school for this sort of thing. I can only hope their stories are gutted on the cutting room floor by their editors and the reporters are left feeling deflated at having constructed a really great piece, but that it wasn’t heard as a result of their higher ups not wanting to cause mass hysteria… but I doubt it.
I recall one TV station sending out a team to take video of the bridge and showed on the evening news the very rusty guard rails with flaking rust spots and peeling paint. Guess what folks… that’s NOT the problem area.
You don’t have to be real smart to know that when a guard fails, it fails at it’s connecting point, or at it’s weakest link. (whichever fails first)
I’m not an engineer. I’m not a reporter. I am one of the great unwashed who listens, reads, and watches the news with a critical mind, and I am getting even more critical as I see the MSM  never really taking ANYONE to task for telling a story that clearly has no merit.

Let’s review some recent quotes.
"The bridge was definitely safe," said Mayor Sam Katz. (CKY)
“I want to assure you that the guard rail on the Disraeli bridge (uh) has performed very well (uh) as a safety feature on that bridge ever  since it was constructed  circa 1960” said Brad Sacher (CKY)
Sacher said the rail was not replaced earlier since it had been frequently inspected and well maintained. (FreeP)
"The fact that it doesn't meet current standards doesn't mean it's unsafe," Sacher said. (FreeP)

Now I have no real issue with what Sacher said. What I have an issue with is what the reporters DIDN’T press him on, and what he DIDN’T say.  The line, “The fact that it doesn't meet current standards doesn't mean it's unsafe," needs to be checked with a question like, “So are you saying that the guard is in the same condition it was when it was built?”
After all, Sacher told us the only reason they haven’t replaced the guard earlier was that it had been frequently inspected and well maintained.
This is where I start to get a little out of my depth… you see, I don’t know anything about bridges, and my idea of maintenance is clearly very different than that of Mr Sacher. He is a trained professional, with (as I understand it) a Professional Engineering Degree and is licensed to practice in Manitoba, possibly elsewhere too. I am in NO position to question Mr.Sacher, as I just don’t have the edumakasion.
I drive this thing often… I couldn’t possibly guess the number of times in my lifetime I’ve been over that bridge(s). I remember the metal grating that covered it originally… and here is where things start to get interesting for an un edumakated clown like me.
Without knowing how Dominion Bridge designed the bridge, I wonder if the concrete decking added too much weight, and if that’s a reason for it’s early demise. The addition of a concrete deck, also added salt and sand, which likely accelerated the rusting of the various components that make up the bridge. Think about it. You can’t spread salt and sand on an open deck bridge, and the steel deck is clearly FAR lighter than concrete.
“What?”, you ask, “Rust?”
Oh yah… this thing has got rust. Lotsa rust.
 I don’t think I’ve ever walked the bridge before today… both directions, and let me tell you, this puppy shakes. Yes, I know all bridges have some deflection, but this thing… shakes.
A review of my walk.
The southern section over the CPR mainline has a“new” vehicle barrier as you approach the curve heading north.

This was obviously added for a reason. Photos of this show that the horizontal rails are clearly not fastened to many of the posts. The nuts and bolts are gone, presumably since December… when it was all last inspected. I’m no expert, so I can’t tell you if the missing nuts and bolts are superfluous to the entire assembly, or if they are required.  Pictures don’t lie, and I didn’t take photos of the same post twice. You be the judge.

It would appear to a regular joe, that a vehicle hitting these two rails would cause them to separate from their current parallel lines and either cause the vehicle to get wedged between them, or in a worst case scenario, push the upper rail down, and catapault the vehicle over the guard.

Further along our walk, there has been a guard added horizontally to the original metal rail. I’m going to call it a rail, because I don’t think this is a guard in its current condition. Today, this rail serves to keep pedestrians from falling off the bridge, but vehicle? I’m not so sure. I know I don’t want to try it.
I guess a question I’d ask is… why is this area special? Clearly the additional horizontal member was deemed necessary, acting to tie the various parts of the assembly together. Was this really the ONLY area of the bridge(s) that were deficient and required this reinforcement? When was this added, and why hasn’t it been found necessary to add this sort of additional support to other sections as the bridge has aged and deteriorated further?

Numerous posts are visibly rotted right through their webs, and some are rusted right through the flanges. The posts are encased in the concrete sidewalk, and also fastened to the horizontal deck members with a plate/bolt connection. There is a metal “skirt” that is flapping around in numerous locations, clearly a result of extensive rust. I don’t believe this skirt is a structural component, but the fact that it’s so badly rusted is indicative of other problems.

Did I mention the sidewalk?
This thing is atrocious. There are literally ankle breaking holes in it where you can see right through. I know, “Big deal. They’re probably control joints. It’s common to see through a bridge in areas.”
Ya… you keep telling yourself that. Again, pics don’t lie, and while I do wear an x-large glove, my hands are not gi-normous.

 There are areas where I was amazed at the repairs and the obvious ingenuity of the crews  doing their job in keeping this bridge “well maintained”. Again, I’m just a guy who spouts off, knowing little of what he speaks, but I was surprised at the creative use of spray foam for sidewalk repairs.
On the bright side, I did not see any duct tape.
Yes, I am guilty of destroying the City’s infrastructure, I picked those pieces of foam apart with my finger nails.

Another thing I noticed were the many missing covers on the light standards connection access points. Just reach in and have a “Jolt”! For a few moments, I thought I was in Mexico, the only place I’ve ever seen such blatant disregard for obvious safety. There’s little point in having a five sided nut to keep people out of these things in other locations, as there’s clearly no danger.Since these things have been missing for some time, and clearly, it’s not a problem worth fixing I have to believe that this isn’t a problem.,,. if this was a safety concern, I’m assured that it would have been looked at.

As we complete our crossing of the “closed” side of the south span on the north bound side we can leave the wretched sidewalk and take a peak at what we’re walking on. To my dismay, the sidewalk is supported by wooden purlins, wedged into place above the fairly sketchy looking deck support “C” channels.  If this is “well maintained” then I… oh never mind, I’m not a P. Eng., so I’m not qualified to comment. After all, Sacher said it was all OK, who am I to argue? I’m curious… if a vehicle was up on the sidewalk as a result of leaving the roadway, are those 3x8’s capable of holding that weight?

While looking at every post and rail section, you can see some of the “maintenance work” that has seen flanges and reinforcement added to the posts, connections between the rails and the posts, and in areas, plates welded over the sidewalk, attached to the control joints and/or the bottom of the rail. While this work is visible, it is by no means extensive, or prevalent.

The south bound side of the bridge crossing the river is likely the worst area I saw with respect to the rusted posts. In the area where the crash/fatality occurred, almost every single post was and IS STILL clearly rusted through the web.
 This picture where my keys go through the flange was also taken on that stretch. 

Note the visible holes due to corrosion on the far post as well, and the flowers located where the rail failed below. This is typical of almost every post along this area. Remember though, the Mayor said it’s safe, so there’s no need to be concerned.
I know Sam is going on the info he’s been provided, and I’m guessing he hasn’t walked this bridge lately.

Why this section has seen so much more corrosion, I don’t know, but to my untrained eye, this part of the rail assembly is completely inadequate. Oops… there I go again, with my opinions. Sorry Brad, I don’t have a pinky ring, and you do. That makes you right, and me…unable to comment as a result of knowing too little.

I’ll offer up that almost a third of the posts have serious rust issues, rendering them (IMO) almost useless as a vehicle guard. I didn’t count them all, and I didn’t photograph them all (but I did photograph MANY) but then, that’s not MY job, is it?

Let me provide some opines and beliefs of my own, even from my sorry state as a simple minion. There’s no engineering, no professional opinion, no consultant review…this is all provided free of charge.
I 35 W, Minneapolis
·         I believe the guard rails WERE ONCE in a condition that me the safety requirements of 1960.
·         I believe that the bridge is “safe” insofar as total collapse is concerned, but I think the way it shakes, buses and anything other than passenger vehicles should be re routed.
·         I believe that the bridge was once capable of carrying the original designed loads, plus a reasonable safety factor, but then I believe the 35W bridge in Minneapolis, and the de la Concord overpass collapse were also on bridges that were “inspected regularly” and “well maintained”.
·         I believe that the rail is capable of providing the safety Brad Sacher says it will, but limited to a pedestrian throwing themselves at it. His quote that I provided at the outset is vague, and can be interpreted to mean  “preventing a car from crashing through it”, but he doesn’t actually SAY that, does he? (Weasel words, provided to him by the City lawyer no doubt)
Before we continue to the next bullet, have we ever once heard someone give us any empirical evidence of a load test done to these rails, or state what they are designed/expected to provide safety from? I’ve never heard anyone say that these rails are supposed to prevent a vehicle from passing through them, so “safe” with no context as to the expected performance is a non sequitur.
·         I believe that the rail should never even come into use, as we should all remain on the roadway, and drive to conditions at all times.
For a brief history lesson, check out
Mr. Christian has another great, informative post on the historical background of one of our City’s greatest achievements… a Freeway you can go 60 km/hr on.

Mr. Christian told us that the bridge took 30 years to plan, and for that time spent planning, we received a structure that has only lasted for 52 years. It’s been in poor shape for most of my life.  The Louise and Redwood bridges, both over 100 years of age are capable of carrying the weight of a cement truck, but if an errant driver ever wandered onto the “freeway”… it's still a major truck route. I'm not so sure about the wisdom of that.

The “new” bridge is NOT of my liking. The public consultation process was (in typical Winnipeg fashion) completely ignored, and this “new” plan by Plenary Roads was force fed citizens. Wait until they ask for more cash to fix the rotting supports of the old bridge that they were planning to use for the “new” pedestrian bridge. Would you think it a good idea to place a brand new  bridge on fifty year old concrete piers that are needing repairs? Spalling concrete, exposed re-bar… sure there’s very little weight, but deterioration of the concrete won’t just stop because there isn’t as much loading on the pier. Deterioration is like a curved graph. Once it starts, the curve increases in it’s slope dramatically.
I get not spending money on a structure you KNOW is going to be torn down. I understand not wanting to create panic and fear by telling people it needs to be closed, or limited in traffic as was suggested recently but to keep telling us everything is A-OK just further erodes our belief in anything Public Works , or our mayor tells us.

“Do not be alarmed. You are safe. You are in no danger”
Heard over the public address system of the Costa Concordia 45 minutes before rolling onto its side. Only then did people hear “Abandon ship!”

Too late.
 Trust your instincts, not what you’re fed.


  1. This is what you get when competent people decide the ever infectious power of political authority is more important than the quality of their common sense. And there is nothing abnormal here. Is there anything in sight to change this? If you are anywhere in the public service you can reasonably expect virtually no sanctioning process so why bother to change?

  2. What an alarming post. That bridge doesn't look good at all.