Across Erie County every day, drivers pass over bridges and culverts, usually carrying some waterway under a county road. It is time for report cards on the culverts and small bridges.
Every four years, the county hires a consultant to investigate the spans. The Erie County Legislature recently approved an upper limit of $390,000 to hire the experts.
This is just the county's bridges, not those of the federal government, New York State, cities, towns and villages. Those are inspected separately because when a bridge goes bad, it can be catastrophic.
Charles Sickler is engineering maintenance director for the Erie County Public Works Department.
"We have some 280 greater than 20' bridges," he said. "The ones that we're doing currently in this resolution are the bridges between 5' and 20' in length. We have 490 of those. We have seven pedestrian bridges that will also be inspected."
Often, those culverts are nearly invisible to drivers because they are those corrugated large metal pipes under the road. Sickler said the continuing wet weather means the county keeps a special watch on some bridges and culverts because the storm waters can wash away the underpinnings of bridges or even the road above the culvert when the water flow is so far beyond the culvert capacity.
"We end up having more so in the flooding these scouring conditions where the soil around the footing on the bridge or a culvert gets washed away and you don't have any support there," he said. "So it's not so much the structural strength of a pipe culvert when the soil around it is washed away."
Sickler said there have been a couple examples of that this year, and there are certain bridges and culverts around the county that are automatically checked after every heavy rain. He said a bridge on Three Rod Road had much of the road itself wash away because water flow was so far above what could be handled through the culvert.