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JFX cracked pillar gets an official response from Baltimore City

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This is a follow up to an earlier post concerning a support column under I-83 in Baltimore City by Meadow Mill. In the article JFX trouble from storm damage: Cracked pillar with exposed rebar, I showed pictures from Karene Smith who was concerned with many others about the toll recent storms and flooding have taken with visible signs under the highway span. I asked for some official to respond and I got that, plus more.

We live in an era of the heightened awareness of our aging infrastructure, especially with the I-495 bridge in Delaware closed this week. Many people are on edge. A simple Google search for “bridge repair us” will reveal reports from large publications including:

Reuters: One in ten U.S. bridges in urgent need of repair

Washington Post: U.S. has 63,000 bridges that need significant repairs; local governments turn to Congress

Fearing that her concern would either have a delayed reply or none at all, Karene asked me if I would help. So I did. I don’t have much more I could add, but I can write here and reach a lot of people via social media. That is exactly what I did. In less than a day I got the official response from Baltimore City. A quote is posted further below.

Because this has turned into a very sensitive issue, I first want to preface this by saying I was trying to help and I DO NOT fear monger. Sadly that was the impression from some including city DOT representative Adrienne Barnes. I didn’t want this to be about my actions, but it needs to be addressed.

I have only my personal reputation to stand on whether it is about the weather or sharing stories. I have worked hard to continue to show my integrity even with a wrong forecast. Having over 154,000 followers and reaching millions of people a week (according to stats) also comes with responsibility. I take that seriously! But sharing information or simple photos (with discretion) is my way to help other people who feel helpless or silent to speak up. That was the purpose of opening up a discussion on Facebook asking people what they thought. I never made accusations or demands, rather I expressed my ‘layman’ view of what I saw and asked simply if this was ‘cosmetic or compromised structural integrity’.

So while the city and some others suggested I needlessly scared drivers, others had thanked me form making them aware and for trying to get a quick answer. I showed what was really under the highway, said I thought it looked questionable, and asked for a reply. Some of those people agreeing with my approach included drivers and proclaimed engineers.

I clearly stated that I am not an engineering expert and even wrote, “I am trying to be cautious with my delivery, but I do hope that via my large following this can get the attention of someone that is in charge to take a closer look at this and decide how to best handle this.” I have had some dialogue reassuring the city representative of that.

Ultimately among the Facebook post discussion, phone calls, and the city response, this is what I found out:

  • This span of the JFX is deemed to be structurally sound by Baltimore City certified by an inspector.
  • The cracked and peeled outer concrete on support pillars serves little support other than protecting the metal rebar and load bearing portion of the column from exposure.
  • Exposed rebar can be subject to erosion compromising the column, but seeing it DOES NOT mean there is an immediate danger.
  • Most inspections occur every 2 years, but no confirmation about the timeline in Baltimore. It could be more or less frequent, however it is their responsibility and they take that seriously.

Here is the official response I received via email today:

The Department of Transportation is in receipt of your posting regarding the Jones Falls Expressway expressing concern about its condition. While we appreciate all concerns being bought to our attention so we can directly address them, we do not appreciate alarming folks unnecessarily.

Please be advised that all of our bridges are subject to routine inspections. We are happy to advise that the JFX has been officially reported to be structurally sound by a Professional Engineer. Additionally, if we found that the JFX is in need of repair it is scheduled accordingly and motorists are restricted from its use for obviously safety reasons.

Please feel free to contact us directly if you have further concerns.

Thank you.

Adrienne D. Barnes, MA

Baltimore City Department of Transportation

So we got a quick response which I hope puts more people at ease tomorrow. In retrospect, my original article title included a colon ':' instead of the question mark '?' I had intended. I wonder if this title would have been received better?

“JFX trouble from storm damage? Cracked pillar with exposed rebar

I understand how sensitive the issue is for drivers who feel helpless and also for government agencies trying to keep up and pay for repairs. I don’t think raising questions or debate is irresponsible. Rather the opposite. I stand by helping Karene and others here, but I will be even more cautious next time. Rather than just 'blogging', I will dig deeper and be certain at least try to get an official statement first. To be honest, I didn’t think I would.

Let’s just hope we are all here to help rather than tear each other down. Save the tearing for the troubled bridges before they fall on their own.

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