No fear: Climbers inspect the bridge up close

Photos be Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times Sean Tanner, left, and another bridge climber working for the state Department of Transportation inspect Deception Pass Bridge Wednesday.

State Department of Transportation employees who visited Deception Pass Bridge this week have a very specific set of skills.

They all have engineering degrees, plenty of upper-body strength, little-to-no fear of heights and they know how to use ropes.

The bridge inspection team, part of the department’s bridge preservation office, swings under the structures to inspect areas that can’t be seen with the “under bridge inspection truck,” according to spokeswoman Andrea Petrich.

The trucks, nicknamed UBITs, are essentially bucket trucks that carry people downward instead of upward. The UBITs visited Deception Pass a few weeks ago.

It’s not necessary to send the bridge climbers out to every bridge, she said, but just those with areas the UBITs can’t reach. The department performs more than 2,000 bridge inspections each year, including about 238 or so with the UBITs.

The state has 44 trained engineers and technicians to perform bridge inspections. Besides the climbers, there’s also a dive team, that performs work under water, and an electrical and mechanical team.

Wednesday, signs were posted at the pass to alert visitors that the climbers were legitimate, not adrenaline-junkies up to shenanigans.

The harnessed climbers secured ropes to the railing, climbed over and rappelled down, hanging out in the bridge’s underbelly in search of rust, cracks, questionable rivets or other problems.

The climbers are equipped with GoPro cameras on their helmets to videotape what they see.

Sean Tanner, one of the bridge inspectors, said the historic bridge, which towers 180 feet above swirling waters below, is one of his favorite to climb.

He said he made sure to pause a moment and look at the spectacular view from the unique vantage point.

Tanner explained that it’s a physically strenuous job that has a lot in common with rock climbing.

Petrich said the team should have a report on the findings in three or four weeks.

After climbing up from the east side of the structure, Tanner said he noticed a little corrosion but nothing much to worry about.

A close inspection is especially important since state Transportation plans to repaint the bridge in the next couple of years, Petrich said.

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