A ‘world-first innovation’ using sonar and underwater cameras to provide detailed information about bridge conditions has been unveiled by the Department for Transport (DfT), Cumbria County Council and Gaist Solutions.
The BridgeCat solution also uses sensors to measure the damage caused by floodwater. DfT officials hope it will help communities affected by floods reconnect more quickly.
Previously divers would be used to assess damage once floodwater has receded, but they can only visit a small number of assets each day.
Over the coming weeks, the system will be trialled at a number of sites in Cumbria to test its components and operation and it is expected to be used to monitor the ongoing condition of bridges in the county.
Roads minister Jesse Norman visited Cumbria today to see the system in action at Salterwath Bridge near Kendal.
Mr Norman said: ‘The BridgeCat is an exciting, world-leading innovation which will help bridges to open more quickly after severe weather, reconnecting communities and minimising disruption.’
The 2015/16 winter storms saw communities across the North devastated by flooding, with local authorities, Highways England and private sector partners doing extensive recovery work across the region under difficult timescales and conditions.
In Cumbria alone 792 bridges were affected after Storm Desmond broke the United Kingdom’s 24-hour rainfall record, with 341.4 mm of rain falling at Honister Pass in the county.
Cllr Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council, said: ‘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 prioritise works much more efficiently and effectively.
‘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.’
Jenny Roberts, senior project manager for BridgeCat at Gaist Solutions Limited, said: ‘At Gaist we focus on addressing national resilience issues to benefit local communities, collaborating on highly innovative projects aimed for social good. BridgeCat embodies these values completely and I am extremely excited to be taking this incredibly important asset on its first step in the journey towards deployment in Cumbria.
‘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.’