UK Roads Minister Jesse Norman has visited Cumbria in northwest England to see a world-first infrastructure monitoring innovation that will allow bridges to be re-opened more quickly, improve resilience at key flooding hotspots, and help to prevent communities affected by floods from becoming isolated.
The minister witnessed how flood-hit bridges can be checked for damage more quickly with the pioneering new ‘BridgeCat’ technology. Developed by the Department for Transport (DfT), Cumbria County Council, and Gaist Solutions, the BridgeCat vehicle uses sonar and underwater camera units mounted on a hydraulic arm to provide detailed information about a bridge’s condition. It combines this with sensors to measure the damage caused by floodwater, both above and below the water. Previously divers have been sent to assess damage once floodwater has receded, but they can only visit a small number each day, causing a delay to vital road links being re-opened.
Almost 800 bridges in Cumbria were affected by the 2015/16 winter storms, and following the first trial of the innovative equipment at Salterwath Bridge near Kendal, the BridgeCat system will be trialed at sites across the county over the coming weeks. The trials will enable teams to test the system components and to ensure efficient operation. It will also provide an opportunity for the BridgeCat team to gain experience of operating the equipment and analyzing the data gathered by the inspection. Once it is fully operational, the BridgeCat will also be used to monitor the ongoing condition of bridges across the county to keep them safe and properly maintained.
“This is important technology for Cumbria; the BridgeCat trials are exciting, and if successful, will enable us to gather important information about the condition of our bridges, which in turn helps us to plan and prioritize works much more efficiently and effectively,” explained Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council. “I’m also delighted to be working in partnership with the Department for Transport and Gaist Solutions on this innovative new project. The technology will be a vital tool in our ongoing flood recovery and resilience works.”
Norman commented, “A good transport system is vital to any community and essential to a thriving economy. The BridgeCat is an exciting, world-leading innovation which will help bridges to open more quickly after severe weather, reconnecting communities and minimizing disruption.”
Jenny Roberts, senior project manager for BridgeCat at Gaist, added, “We have a lot of learning to do, but we also have a great team in place and I have every confidence that we will be gathering useful data from day one.”