Wednesday, February 1, 2012
How "Dolphins" protect bridges
Everybody loves dolphins. Our mammal friend is always a hit at the local aquarium. But there's another type of dolphin that protects tens of thousands of drivers traveling across some of Southeast Texas' bridges.
We're not talking about "Flipper". In fact, don't look for any fish-like creature balancing a beach ball and directing you through your next I-10 traffic jam. Instead, these "dolphins" are steel, sand and concrete.
Not sure where the term "dolphin" came from. "Bumpers" would probably be a more fitting description. But whatever you want to call them, these simple structures go a long way to protect bridges crossing waterways used by ships and barges.
The ingredients are simple: metal sheet piling, some river sand and a bit of concrete. They are formed into large circular posts near the footings of certain bridges and are designed to keep ships and barges from damaging some of the area's most important highway routes.
Southeast Texas is home to three major ports: the ports of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. Just about every kind of ship and barge makes its way along the Neches and Sabine Rivers. With at least four major bridges crossing these waterways, TxDOT makes sure to protect those bridges from being hit by "errant" ships and barges. "Dolphins", placed around the bridge footings, serve as a bumper. After all, it's better to hit one of these sand-filled contraptions than hit one of the most vital parts of the Veterans Memorial, Rainbow, MLK or SH 82 bridge.
Do they work? Absolutely! The district is making repairs to at least two of these devices due to "waterway wrecks". And that's good news not only for shipping, but for motorists.