© 2021 Cincinnati Public Radio
Connecting You to a World of Ideas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News
91.7 WVXU Connecting you to a world of ideas with NPR news, local news from our award-winning team & music/entertainment programs heard only on public radio.

Take A Look Under Ohio's Tallest Bridge

The first thing you notice as the bucket truck lowers you over the side of the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge is just how quiet it is only a few feet below the side of the bridge. The second thing you notice is just how high up you really are.

The bucket truck, called a snooper truck, is how crews with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) inspect the state's highest bridge, named after the ninth governor of Ohio. Sure, it might seem a little crazy to hang over the side of a 239 foot tall bridge, suspended from a long hydraulic arm, but bridge specialists Jared Backs and David Krazl say it's scarier on top of the bridge with traffic whizzing past you at 70 miles per hour, assuming everyone is going the speed limit.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Bridge Specialists Jared Backs and David Krazl ride in the bucket attached to a snooper truck. The arm extends over the side of the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, allowing the crew to get a close look at the span's underside.

Backs and Krazl are part of a team inspecting the bridge for flaws, cracks, deficiencies or anything "out of the ordinary," says Brandon Collett, ODOT structures planning engineer. The inspection report includes a 50-item checklist, and photography and note-taking that will be used to establish a baseline for year-to-year comparison.  Bridges are inspected annually in Ohio.

It takes about four days to inspect the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge because it's actually two spans, built side-by-side. The inspection doesn't just include checking the underside of the highway, "We're also walking from the ground looking up, (and) every five years they rappel all the piers so that we can get hands on the piers also," Collett explains.

The crews will also spend a couple days inspecting the bridges from the inside. Each span is built like a trapezoid with wings on the sides. "It's basically one big box girder," says Collett. The hollow space between the highway floor and the bottom of the bridge is approximately 30 feet high, Backs says.

Credit Provided / Ohio Department of Transportation
This 2017 image of the northbound span under construction shows the bridge's hollow interior. The old southbound structure is seen the background prior to demolition.

There are about 1,500 bridges in ODOT District 8, which consists of Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Greene, Hamilton, Preble and Warren counties. Many don't require a snooper truck with a bucket at the end of a 62-foot-long hydraulic arm. ODOT has two snooper trucks that cover about 400-450 bridges each year, according to Backs.

ODOT is experimenting with using drones to aid the inspection process, too.

It's almost peaceful riding in the snooper bucket as it's lowered from the northbound lanes of I-71, bouncing ever so slightly above the Little Miami River. "It's pretty unique because you have the scenery and the river and everything," says Krazl. "These (bridges) are quiet because there's not much bounce. Some of the steel bridges have a little more sound underneath.

"It's pretty awesome up here and I just enjoy bridge inspecting."

The new Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, completed in 2016, took six years to build, with the overall project lasting seven years. In 2017, it took several tries to implode the original structure. Click below to watch footage of the demolition, and click the photo above to see more images taken from under the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge.