Last week’s rush-hour collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., shook state transportation departments across the nation. From California to Main, state DOTs were asked the same question – “Are our bridges safe?”
The Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Communications fielded 18 media contacts the day after the tragedy, answering questions from all corners of the state about the safety and inspections of Idaho bridges. More than a week later, the questions still come.
The Communications Office, staffed by writers, editors, and photographers, relied on transportation department employees with the technical and engineering expertise to answer those questions.
One of those staffers is Kathleen Slinger, a bridge inspection engineer who met with transportation department Deputy Director Scott Stokes for an interview with Idaho Statesman reporter Greg Hahn.
Hahn was doing a story for the Wednesday edition on the condition of the Broadway Bridge in Boise, as well as the condition of bridges statewide.
Slinger and Stokes explained how a bridge’s rating is reached, and how it reflects on a bridge’s safety. Hahn and other reporters sifted through reports to see how bridges were rated, then wrote about the structures.
One of those is the Broadway Bridge, a heavily used route that allows motorists to travel northbound and southbound. Broadway connects east Boise neighborhoods with the downtown area, government offices and State Street. The bridge’s rating is due in part to the condition of the driving surface, which needs repairs.
The Goff Bridge, about two miles north of Riggins received a rating in the mid 80s when it was brand new. Slinger and Stokes told Hahn that’s because if the bridge were to close, the nearest detour for motorists would be hundreds of miles away.
As the media continues its coverage of the Minneapolis bridge collapse, the Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Communications will respond to reporters’ questions on bridge safety for some time.
Often, stories require communications specialists to tackle a learning curve that allows them to answer reporters’ questions. Transportation department employees like Stokes and Slinger help the “laymen” get the technical angles right.