3 Advantages of using Drones for Bridge Inspections

Image of Big Sur Scaled

Bridges and overpasses are a critical part of America’s infrastructure. They facilitate the transportation of people and goods across the country and are essential to the nation’s economy. However, many of these structures are aging, and the need for infrastructure repairs is becoming more pressing.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the average age of the 614,387 bridges in the United States is 44 years. The ASCE also rated the condition of bridges on a scale of 0-100, with 0 indicating failure and 100 indicating excellent condition. The national average score for bridges was 43, which is considered poor.

Many bridges and overpasses are in need of repair, with rust, corrosion, and cracks in their structures posing significant safety risks. In 2021, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) Bridge Report revealed that there are 231,000 bridges in the United States that need repair work.

The need for infrastructure repairs is particularly high in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the country. The ARTBA report found that these regions have the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges. The state of Iowa has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country, with over 4,500 bridges in need of repair. Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of structurally deficient bridges, with over 3,000 in need of repair.

Image of Pexels Klas Tauberman X

Bridge with hard to reach inspection points

Drones Can Easily Locate Important Repairs

Drones can be a useful tool in inspecting bridges and overpasses.  Aerial drone photography can be especially helpful capturing high-resolution images and videos in tight spaces underneath bridges and overpasses.  The data drones can capture provide valuable information about the condition of a structure. This information can help engineers identify areas that require repair work and develop maintenance plans.

Drones Increase Workforce Safety

Drones can also improve safety in bridge inspections. Inspectors often need to climb up to great heights to inspect a bridge, which can be dangerous and time-consuming. With drones, inspectors can remain on the ground and operate the drone remotely. This reduces the need for man-power and makes inspections safer.

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Rural bridge over flowing river

Drones Reduce Inspection Costs

The use of drones for bridge inspections can help save money in a number of areas.  The US government estimates that a typical bridge inspection costs between $4,500 and $10,000 per inspection.  Costs include worker compensation (and benefits), equipment (transportation and storage) and traffic management expenses.  According to Drone Deploy, drones can reduce those costs as much as 75% and the California Resources Corporation estimates drone inspections results in a 90% reduction in inspection time.

In conclusion, the state of bridges and overpasses in the United States is concerning. With the average age of bridges being 44 years and the national average condition score being 43, the need for infrastructure repairs is pressing. 

Fortunately, the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA; P.L. 117-58), enacted on November 15, 2021, established federal programs specifically to fund bridges and significantly increased the total amount of federal funding that can be used for bridge construction and repair.

Ultimately, drones can be an effective tool in inspecting bridges and overpasses, improving safety, saving costs, and increasing efficiency in inspections.

From The Editor:

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Jim Gibson