The Ministry of Development maintains a database, the Bridge Management System (GSP), which details, including photos, the visits of the inspectors, the pathologies they detect and the measures that are taken to fix them. However, it is restricted access and the Government refuses to open it on the grounds of "security reasons". The collapse of a bridge in Genoa (Italy) Last August, it raised the issue of infrastructure security and its maintenance, especially after a serious economic crisis in which investments in conservation sank. While countries like Germany have made this data public, Spain has kept them closed at all times, which made it impossible to know the state of the Spanish bridges and the result of inspections that happen periodically.
The almost 23,000 works of passage – especially bridges and pontoons (87.2%), but also large structures, pedestrian underpasses or footbridges – have been inspected at least once in the last five years, according to official data of the Ministry of Development obtained by EL PAÍS under the Transparency Law. During these exams, experts assess the damage from different points of view and calculate some indexes (extension, severity and evolution) to which algorithms are applied to obtain a final classification that ranges from 0 to 100. The lower the score, the better the condition. The structures that obtain more than 81 points present "potentially serious pathologies that can affect their resistant behavior" and are subject to special monitoring. This classification includes 66 bridges or viaducts spread over 26 provinces. More than half of these problematic passage works (34) are in Andalusia. It is followed by Galicia, with 10, and Castilla y León, with 9.
These 66 are the ones that present the worst situation, but many other road infrastructures suffer deterioration, according to a recent report, dated October 3, which this newspaper had access to. From 21 points in the state classification, the structures show deteriorations of greater or lesser extent that "may have a pathological evolution that affects durability or service conditions". Of the total of 22,961 elements of Spanish roads, 93% present some degree of deterioration. Only 1,486 are structures "without evident pathologies or with deterioration without relevant consequences for durability, service or safety conditions," according to the report.
The situation is getting worse as the classification progresses. Between 41 and 60 points (where almost half of the bridges are framed, see graphic), the wear "may mean a reduction in the service conditions or the durability of the structure" and "may require a medium performance term "to ensure that it is complying in good conditions with the years it was expected to last. The potentially serious pathologies that determine a high index may have been detected only in a specific element (the containment system, platform, piles, abutments, support devices, foundations …) of the bridge and not in the entire structure. Therefore, sometimes a punctual repair is enough. However, when several elements are affected, a complete repair is carried out.
In the last five years, the Ministry of Development has had to act through emergency works when the deterioration of infrastructures in worse condition "posed a serious danger," says the report. These are cases in which you can not wait to carry out an ordinary tender procedure, so the works are awarded without competition or publicity and subsequently the Council of Ministers is informed to validate them. Between 2014 and the first nine months of this year, around 116 million euros have been used in emergency actions, according to the report of the General Directorate of Roads.
Some already repaired
Of the 66 structures currently classified with the worst score (between 81 and 100), 19 of them have already been repaired (17), are being repaired (1) or have been demolished since they are not necessary due to being on a secondary road (1) , according to a written response from the Ministry of Public Works following the EL PAÍS questions. In nine cases the repair project is "in draft". In others, such as the A-6 in León (when it passes through the Órbigo River, at the height of Cebrones del Río), "the measures to be adopted are still being evaluated". Three of these conflicting points are in the urban center of Ferrol (A Coruña). On the current status of these sections, the response of Development states: "The conservation sector is studying the evolution, and if necessary will proceed to do the action that corresponds".
In another eight cases, the update indicates that a special inspection of these elements is "in process". Special inspections are not systematically carried out on a regular basis, but arise as a consequence of the damages detected in a main inspection (those that use the 0-100 status index and carried out by specialized personnel with specific contracts), or also as consequence of an extraordinary situation such as an accident – the impact of a vehicle on the pillar of a bridge, for example – or a strong flood that affects a structure.
Fomento ensures that 153 structures have recently been examined in this way, with special inspections. Among them there are some very modest and located in the countryside, such as a cattle pass under the N-630 in Segovia, and others that use tens of thousands of vehicles each day, such as the cable-stayed bridge of the V Centenario, in Seville. Fomento is doing maintenance work on this bridge since September and there is a project on the table to expand its lanes. In this series have also been reviewed structures such as the pedestrian walkway on the M-40, in Madrid, which is an exception, since only 1.7% of the works of passage of Spanish roads are pedestrian walkways.
Improvements in the system
In conversation with EL PAÍS, the Secretary General of Infrastructure, Javier Izquierdo, said that his department plans to implement several improvements in the system for reviewing the status of structures, such as the production of an annual report on its evolution and the creation of a technical platform that allows to control in a centralized way all the structural monitoring systems installed on bridges. With regard to inspection contracts, Izquierdo announced that "the periodicity will be reduced from five to three years", so that the structures pass a review in the first three years of the contract.
The Ministry of Development also plans to pay special attention to what it calls "singular structures". Among other things, it will use drones to inspect all bridges over 300 meters in length. In the structures of large dimensions with drawer boards that can be visited internally, a main inspection of the interior will be carried out and in the structures with a metal lattice-like board, "which are especially sensitive to fatigue", a special inspection will be carried out when previously only the calls went through main inspections, lists the written response sent by the ministry. Metal structures with more than 40 meters of span will also be inspected. For all of them, after these exams, a maintenance plan will be drafted in which some revision periods for each of its elements are set.
Javier Izquierdo said that among the 66 bridges classified with the worst grade the casuistry is very varied, but that "there are no serious problems" and that at no time has been feared because any of them collapsed. "Nobody has structural problems that suggest that there is going to be a critical situation," he said, adding that if measures are not taken "they continue to deteriorate, obviously." He also stressed that they are only 0.29% of all the infrastructure managed by Fomento. We must remember that the road network of the State has more than 26,390 kilometers, while the autonomous communities manage 71,325 kilometers and the deputations, 69,968. Those of the State collect 51.2% of the total traffic.
The Secretary General of Infrastructure said that his department will not give public access to the SGP database, which includes the current state of the bridges and their incidents in detail, "for reasons of public safety" and because information of this type of structures is sensitive. In the response obtained by EL PAÍS through the Portal of Transparency, Fomento denied access to the database alleging that "it is not prepared for public consultation, among other aspects for reasons of computer security". Fomento also denied access to the results sheets of the inspections carried out in the last 10 years to the bridges of the State highway network because offering this information would require "a preliminary action of reworking, so it is not viable." The refusal is appealed before the Transparency and Good Government Council, the public body that oversees compliance with the 2013 Transparency Law.
The Ministry of Development recognizes in its report on the state of the structures of the State Roads Network (RCE) that "budget constraints" have not covered all the detected needs and that "it has been necessary to limit oneself to the most priority" . An easily verifiable statement when we examine the data provided by this document, obtained thanks to the Transparency Law. The bridge repair projects that are tendered under the works budgets of the Subdirectorate of Conservation were non-existent for six full years. The data show that between 2009 and 2014 – the worst years of the economic crisis in Spain – not a single euro was allocated to repair projects. In the previous year, 2008, 11 million euros had been appropriated. In the previous one, just over 7 million. This item did not recover until 2015, when the investment slightly exceeded 8 million euros.
What was the result of not investing anything in projects to repair structures of the road network? In those years, emergency actions were triggered, according to the data. In 2014, for example, it was necessary to allocate double the previous year to actions processed by the emergency procedure, which is used when the deteriorations detected in a structure "pose a serious danger to users of the same and can not wait to carry out an ordinary tender procedure with the structure in service ".