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June 2022

Safety Is Paramount:
Saskatchewan Bridge Collapse
Case Study
As we prepare the June 2022 edition of "The Credential," we are reminded about yet another infrastructure/transportation failure: the Amtrak train derailment in north central Missouri this week. We send our sincere condolences to the family, friends and business associates for the lives lost and those seriously injured during this tragic event. 
Infrastructure research, design, construction, and funding is front and center in the U.S. right now. The A/E/LA/C professional community is scrambling for multiple dollars to improve roads, highways, bridges, airports, railways, utilities, water resources and more. 
Take a moment to read the following case study concerning infrastructure failure and reflect on the oath you take to protect public safety.
We welcome back Michael S. Ellegood, PE. He has held positions ranging from Project Engineer through Senior Executive in major consulting engineering firms. He joined the public sector as an agency head, ultimately retiring as County Engineer, Public Works Director, and Transportation Director of Maricopa County, Arizona. Currently, Michael serves as Senior Consulting Engineer with E + E LLC. Michael takes us on a written journey of a true example of "failed practice in a careful and diligent manner."
Engineer to face hearings on bridge collapse
A recent article published in The New Civil Engineer, a respected British engineering journal, cites the saga of a Canadian engineer who designed and constructed a bridge in the rural municipality of Clayton, Saskatchewan, Canada.  According to the article, construction of the bridge was completed in mid-September 2018 and collapsed a mere six hours after it was opened to traffic. Fortunately, no one was on the bridge when it collapsed and there were no injuries.
Dyck Memorial Bridge
Clayton, Saskatchewan, Canada
The bridge appears to be a multi-span, steel girder bridge supported on two-five column steel bents on a screw pile foundation.  According to the article and CBC reports, the road is unpaved and carries a traffic volumn of 1000 vehicles per day. It crosses the Swan River. No information on span length or total bridge length or width was provided.
The Rural Municipality of Clayton is indeed rural. The population is 631 people in an area of 533 square miles. The residents live in small villages and towns, on farms, or in single family homes in rural areas. The tax base is small and municipal leaders necessarily frugal. In fact, the CBC showed video clips of Clayton administrators questioning the need for the project and that money could be better spent elsewhere.
The immediate cause of the collapse appears to be the failure of a bridge bent due to the collapse of the bearing soils. The bent reportedly subsided over 4 feet! Preliminary investigations suggest that no geotechnical investigation proximate to the bent locations was conducted. When questioned about the lack of soils analysis, the engineer responded that his client, the Rural Municipality of Clayton, wanted to save money and refused to allow the engineer to conduct soil borings. Some reports quote the chief executive of the Municipality as saying, "You can't do this work under the river. You can't drill through water" (CBC report).
Now, the engineer/constructor is being sued and subject to disciplinary hearings because he failed to practice "in a careful and diligent manner."
There are two major takeaways that apply to all of us:
1.  Never shortchange the underground investigation even if you think you know what's there.  Underground conditions including bad soil, contaminated soil, unknown utilities, and other surprises are cited as a frequent cause of cost overruns, construction claims and disputes. So always do a thorough and proper geotechnical investigation in the design process.
2.  Never let economic or other considerations overrule your own professional judgement. We all want to please our client. Happy clients = more work and a good reputation. But you, the designer, are ultimately responsible for public safety and the efficacy of your project. We cannot let the client, often a non-professional - who commissioned us to use our best professional judgement to solve a problem - to override our design prerogatives. This does not mean over-design; it does mean use accepted practices in the design process. 
In my own professional career, I have been stung by this very scenario. I was designing a flood control, low-flow channel in a natural watercourse in a major Southwestern city. Costs were being shared between my agency, a flood control district, and this city. Because we were digging in the riverbed, I, a former bridge designer, proposed an extensive geotechnical investigation along the centerline of the proposed channel. The city balked at the expense, saying that  the geotechnical characteristics of the riverbed were well-known, that they had extensive reports and that those additional investigations were not necessary - and furthermore, they refused to pay for any but a rudimentary investigation "just to confirm what we already know." I acquiesced, the design completed, construction began. During construction, the contractor uncovered an abandoned municipal landfill. This added delay and almost doubled to cost of construction.
Take this saga to heart. All of us, design professionals, have taken an oath to protect public safety and to put the public's interests foremost. We must never let the exigencies of the moment override our professional judgement.
Taking an oath to protect the health safety and welfare of the public is paramount to practicing architecture, engineering, landscape architecture and others who have professional responsibility of the built environment. We support you and take seriously the maintenance and managment of your professiohal credentials. Our credentials management services (individual and business) are exclusively designed for A/E/LA professionals.
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