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The Beardcicle Chronicles: Splinters in the Tires

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The older I get the more I realize that everything around me is breaking down. Always and forever breaking down.

Indeed it seems like I am forever fixing things. From my car to my iPod, it seems like a screwdriver should be permanently grafted to my hand.

I don’t mind fixing things. In fact, I rather enjoy the challenges of figuring out how something works and then determining how it broke and then figuring out a way to make it work again. Usually on the cheap.

There is a real satisfaction there. And grease under the fingernails seems to speak to a skill-set that so many are losing in this age of computers and desk jobs. I certainly understand the toll physical labor takes on the body and in many ways much prefer to sit at a desk.

I also realize, as I get older, that many times the repairs and fixes I have to do are a result of maintenance deferred. Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? It’s that way with the house I live in, the car I sometimes drive, and the bike I ride.

It seems like this is a bit of a universal. Heck, even the Muni seems to put off maintenance from time to time.

As I was riding home yesterday, June 16th, along Chester Creek to the Coastal trail, I came along this:

It seems that even though the Muni has recently outlaid a bunch of money to resurface the decks of the bridges along the Coastal Trail, they didn’t bother looking at the understructure to ensure that the bones were worth doing work on top of.

The armchair pundits commenting on the news article on Alaska Dispatch all continually point to the fact that there is a statement about 10,000-pound vehicles being driven over these bridges — bridges designed for pedestrians and bikes. I love the armchair pundits who, now that they have Facebook, can declare themselves experts on any topic. It’s a beautiful thing.

The thing is, though, federally funded transportation projects such as the building of multi-use bike trails have to meet federal guidelines in a number of areas, including the width of the path and specific load requirements for bridges. In other words, the bridges are designed to support vehicle traffic. And heavy vehicle traffic at that. Ambulances or small fire trucks — emergency vehicles.

The cause of this bridge collapse is not that vehicles drove over it, but rather that the city did not inspect the structure on a regular basis to ensure that the wooden support structure was not deteriorating. The bridges along this trail were built in the mid-80’s — nearly 30 years ago. They are wood. It is Alaska — rain and snow. Wet wood, whether engineered wood-product or not, will eventually rot if exposed to moist conditions for long enough. Even with regular maintenance, the beams that hold these bridges up would eventually come to the end of service life due to the elements and time taking their toll.

I’d venture that most ply-lam beams, which is what these bridge structures appear to be composed of, have about a 30-to-50-year service life when used out of doors, in normal conditions — i.e., conditions like what the Outside sees. Meaning not nearly 24 hours of sunlight during the summers, long wet springs and falls, and heavy snows over the winter.

As someone who’s been using the Coastal trail quite a bit recently, I hate to say this, but I have to make the suggestion: The Muni needs to pony up and assess, repair, or replace all of the bridges along the trail system. Even if that means that the trails must be closed down for a time. In this case no one was hurt, which is good. And the single biker, walker, or runner is rarely going to trigger a catastrophic failure. But, given the right circumstances, say a large peloton out for a Sunday ride hitting the bridge in a tight group could cause the type of failure that results in many people being hurt or worse.

Even with tight budget constraints, the public’s safety needs to be a priority, right?