Thursday, November 26, 2015

Bridge over troubled autobahn

About four years ago, when we started planning the house we’re living in now, the surveyor made a small error. Then the architect made an error in his calculations. The result of those two errors is that our house is a couple of inches closer to the neighbouring house than regulations allow, although since the local planning department didn’t notice and all our neighbours signed to say they had no objections to the architect’s plans, that’s all moot. Or was, until we got a carport that’s just slightly too narrow for us to open both car doors.

Anyway, a story has just now broken that puts this into perspective. It concerns a bridge over an autobahn, which was completed in 2012.

This happened while work was progressing to widen the A2 autobahn between Kamen and Hamm, and old bridges had to be replaced. One bridge was built 45 centimetres — nearly 18 inches — too far to one side. It was a surveying error, which then wasn’t caught by the inspector, and remained undetected until it was too late.

A bridge too far over.

Whereas our carport is a bit on the cramped side but still usable, the poorly located bridge had some pretty major consequences. You can’t just put a wiggle in an autobahn: they had to redo the plans for 600 metres of autobahn and make alterations to three other bridges. The total cost of this error ran to €600,000. If my calculations are correct, that’s a thousand euros a metre. (I was never much good at arithmetics.)

So why has this story only now come to light? It was buried in this year’s annual report of the Federal Court of Auditors, and it took journalists a week to get bored enough to actually read it (seriously, if your job included reading the annual report of any organisation with “auditors” in its title, you might struggle to stay alive).

According to the report, right after the bridge went up, the construction workers noticed that something was amiss, and alerted the local road construction authority, who took careful measurements and concluded that everything was fine. Three months later, the construction workers said, “No, really, none of this makes sense,” and this time the measurements confirmed it. Sometimes it pays to listen to men with shovels.

Still, I’m now feeling a lot more relaxed about our carport.

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