How safe is Europe’s infrastructure? The collapse of a bridge in Italy last month has raised that question even in Germany, a country known for its high standards of engineering. But this bridge crossing the Rhine near Cologne has been closed to heavy trucks since 2015 for security reasons. Inspectors detected hundreds of cracks in the steel of its structures. “The closing of this bridge was a huge wake-up call for politicians: since then they are rethinking the way of refinancing and rebuilding bridges. Now we have enough funding but that’s late and now we have a lot of construction sites that lead to even more congestion roads”, says Marcus Hover, a transport and logistics industry expert.
The opening of a new bridge is expected in 2020. For truck drivers, finally a sigh of relief. Many structures built in Europe in the 60s and 70s today show problems of stability and security. On the one hand, this is due to a lack of proper maintenance, on the other hand, it has to do with a massive increase in traffic that has worn down those structures, designed to support only lower pressure. Structural deficits are also caused by old building techniques used during the post-war construction boom, as Guido De Roeck, from the Department of Civil Engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven, explains. “There was a lot of construction going on in all the European countries and the control on the quality was not what it is nowadays. So it is indeed possible that inferior concrete was used.”
To monitor the stability of bridges, there is help from space: the satellite Leonardo allows the detection of micro-movements of the structures thanks to sensors inside the bridges. Guido De Roeck: “In the ideal case, we have new structures and we immediately install sensors inside. For all the other bridges, of course, we miss a baseline, we miss the virgin state of the bridge, but still, we can follow the evolution.” One month after the collapse of a bridge in Genoa, the time has come for European countries to invest in new infrastructure that is safe.