Transportation engineers monitoring bridges at risk during flood situations are getting a helping hand with locally focused weather forecasting, Web bots that troll automatically for targeted information and software that assesses the data to send alerts when preset conditions are met.

SCOURWATCH Raises alarm when waters rise.

"It’s helping us get out of the barn faster," says Peter Weykamp, bridge maintenance program engineer with the New York State Dept. of Transportation. Because of improved forecasting, engineers can concentrate on specific bridges and water courses instead of whole counties during floods. With the automatic notification systems, everyone who should be advised receives the alerts as they go out.

Scour undermines foundations. A 1997 study by the Trans-portation Research Board said there are 488,750 bridges over streams and rivers in the U.S. It set the annual cost for scour-related bridge failures at $30 million.


Creating practical devices to monitor scour has proven elusive. As an alternative, engineers are trying to predict more accurately which specific bridges are threatened and send inspectors to them even before waters rise.

NYSDOT uses the services of USEngineering Solutions Corp., West Hartford, Conn., which has been inventing systems to tie localized weather and bridge data together.

Its product, ScourWatch, collects stream and weather data for clients from the Internet and matches it against the customer’s bridge data.

Each bridge is given a particular flood stage and flow-rate threshold that is used to automatically trigger e-mail, beeper or telephone alerts to engineers when scouring conditions threaten the bridge. A new option also can push relevant structural data to inspectors in the field.