MDOT Using Remote Controlled Boats to Assist With Bridge Inspections

High water levels create challenges for the Michigan Department of Transportation when it comes to bridge inspections.

But they recently got a new tool to help them work around that problem.

They now have a boats that uses side scan sonar to generate images that help track what’s known as scour.

“It’s basically your sediment that’s washing away from the bridge, your soil under the water. Some of the bridges are designed to have that soil there in place. When it washes out it affects the structural stability of the structure and using this tool we can actually better evaluate the in service condition of the structure,” said Brandon Boatman, North Region Bridge Engineer.

The new tool also allows MDOT to perform bridge inspections safely when the water rises around bridges and see data in real- time.

“It’s safer so the inspectors aren’t out there waiting in the water and then during the high flow events we can send the boat out there. We don’t have to put ourselves in danger being in a boat. We can use a remote controlled boat from the shore and kind of scan and make sure the bridge is safe for the public. Some of our bridges have very little headroom where we can’t send inspectors,” said Boatman.

MDOT says they plan to use this remote controlled boat more frequently to inspect bridges deemed scour critical.

“We’re going to plan to use it in the field next year, we have several scour critical bridges we’re going to scan and take baseline measurements. We have action plans that we have to inspect for compliance purposes,” said Boatman.