Twinsburg company makes sensors to detect bridge problems

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STREETSBORO, Ohio-- The discovery of buckled and twisted metal pillars underneath the Lake Rockwell Bridge on state Route 14 has left the bridge closed while the state works to replace it.

The damage was discovered Monday by contractors working on a completely different project nearby.

The cause of the damage to the 31-year-old span is still unclear.  It is believed that the damage happened only recently.

The bridge was inspected in April and a photograph released by ODOT appears to show no problems with the bridge in mid-July.

ODOT said had its inspectors detected any structural problems in April, they would have not taken the risk of leaving the bridge open.

With the nation's aging infrastructure, a local company is working to get innovative, fiber optic sensors on bridges across the country. Those sensors are capable of detecting problems in their early stages.

Cleveland Electric Laboratories, headquartered in Twinsburg, has been working for the past 11 years to create an arsenal of tools that can be placed in strategic places on bridges and will warn of potentially hazardous changes.

"We realized about 11 years ago that being a sensor company and dealing with fiber optic, and the intensity of that particular measuring device that we could apply those to some of these cracks and vibration and stress portion of bridges, and give very accurate information," said company president Jack Lieske.

The company already has its sensors on some very high-profile projects.

"We just did the St. Simons entrance bridge, the Mackay Bridge in Georgia. It was entirely crack sensors. We are doing the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, where we start at one end in New York and we end up in Brooklyn, and we are measuring structural and crack sensitivities," Lieske said.

The sensors can alert engineers to potentially dangerous changes in the bridges, even underwater.

"Engineers can set the limits they want on the bridge so they have their warning limits they know because they designed the bridge, they monitor the bridge, they know where those limits are at. So when they set those limits, then we have alarms that can go off and if it goes past their limits," Alan Seymour said.

"With the one of bridges we were on a barge hit it and immediately they got alerted. Cameras flashed to it so they knew exactly what happened. So the bridge, instead of being shut down for a whole day, was only shut down for like three hours because they had all the information from our sensors right away to see it was still structurally sound," Seymour said.

The company said it has been working hard to get the attention of officials in Ohio, but said progress here has been slow.

Cost is a consideration. But on its biggest projects, the company said the price of its monitoring system amounts to only about 1 percent of the total cost of the bridge.

"The goal is to get the notification faster," Seymour said.

"That's part of the payback I think that happens when knowing ahead of time you can fix the small repairs. Instead of doing a great big thing faster so it's better for the community, better for safety, it's better for business for me all the way around," he said.