The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) yesterday said it would recommend that the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), city governments and county governments regularly inspect pedestrian skywalks under their management following the collapse of an overpass in Keelung on Saturday.
The incident brought the safety of bridges nationwide under scrutiny after a 22-year-old woman surnamed Chan (詹) suffered a concussion and temporary amnesia in the collapse.
Institute of Transportation Planning director Jason Su (蘇振維) said that the MOTC is scheduled to meet with representatives from the MOI and city and county governments next week to make the recommendation.
“We will tell them that a new column will be added to the Bridge Management Information System where they can record the maintenance and inspection information of pedestrian skywalks,” Su said. “We will encourage them to update the column regularly, which would help them monitor the safety of skywalks.”
Su said that under the current bridge database system, government agencies may voluntarily enter the results of pedestrian skywalk inspections, but it is not a requirement.
Su said that the MOTC would not require local-level government agencies to make entries in the new column, but would “recommed that if they inspect the pedestrian skywalks, they can record the results in the database,” he said.
Directorate-General of Highways (DGH) Deputy Director-General Chao Hsin-hua (趙興華) said the nation has about 27,000 bridges, only about 12 percent of which are maintained and managed by the DGH. The rest are maintained by local and central government agencies.
The majority of bridges that are closely monitored are those that are used by motor vehicles, not pedestrians, he added.
“Generally speaking, pedestrian skywalks do not pose as many problems or risks as highway bridges. Pedestrian skywalks are above roads and their supporting bases are not scoured by water,” Chao said. “Since only people can use the skywalks, overloading is not an issue as it is with motor vehicles.”
However, he stressed that “what local governments do not realize is that events like earthquakes can dislocate the supporting base of pedestrian crosswalks.”
As of yesterday, only government agencies in New Taipei City (新北市), Greater Taichung, Taoyuan County, Hsinchu City, Greater Kaohsiung, Greater Tainan, Chiayi City, Taipei, Yunlin County and Keelung, as well as the National Freeway Bureau, have entered pedestrian skywalk inspection results in the database.
Jerry Yao (姚乃嘉), professor of the Graduate Institute of Construction Engineering and Management at National Central University, said he designed the database with Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) after the 921 Earthquake in 1999 to record all broken and damaged bridges.
The system allows different government agencies to enter the information of the bridges under their management, Yao said, adding that nobody had even known how many bridges the nation had prior to the establishment of the system.
Yao said the database has helped the authorities manage the nation’s bridges more efficiently.
According to Yao, Taiwan’s bridge density is 10 times higher than that of the US. The US has 0.06 bridges per square kilometer, whereas Taiwan has 0.67 bridges per square kilometer, he said.
Yao said Taiwan’s geography also poses many challenges to bridge management, given that the nation is in the Pacific Rim seismic zone and is frequently struck by typhoons.