Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
The District 7 Culvert Inspection Team poses with the little robotic camera that performs a very big job.  Left to right; Bernardo Toruno, Stormwater Engineer; Luis Monterubio, Culvert Inspector; Edward Castro Video Culvert Inspector; Antonio Garcia, Video Culvert Inspector; Tom Muller, Culvert Inspector; and Roger Castillo, Maintenance Manager I.

by  Jeanne Bonfilio
Issue Date: 10/2008

Nearly all of District 7s storm drain system is underground and out of sight, out of mind to most people.

What exactly are culverts and why are they so important to Caltrans? In simple terms, a culvert is a drainage pipe or system with a very important function. Their main purpose is to drain and route water away from the surface of the roadway and into a city-owned or other ancillary drainage system which most often flows into the Los Angeles River or other waterway and ultimately to the Pacific Ocean.

Culverts can be circular, square or in the shape of an arc, or half-circle. Nearly all of District 7’s storm drain system is underground and out of sight, out of mind to most people. If it were not for an efficient, monitored, culvert system, water could collect and pool on the roadway surface causing safety issues for motorists, such as skidding or hydroplaning. “The goal of the Culvert Inspection Program is to reduce the number of catastrophic culvert failures and their associated costs and increase the reliability and safety of the state's highway system,” explained Manuel Morales, P.E., Senior Transportation Engineer, Headquarters Culvert Inspection Program Coordinator.

Coordinating an effective Culvert Inspection Program takes a highly skilled and dedicated team of professionals, each with specialized expertise and training. Bernard Toruno, P.E., Transportation Engineer and District 7’s Culvert Inspection Coordinator, is well aware of the importance of an efficient program. Under the office of Maintenance Engineering Support, he works closely with a multitude of District and Headquarters personnel, including Maintenance Supervisors and culvert inspectors Luis Monterrubio and Tom Muller, who, with other crew members, carefully assess, monitor and inventory the thousands of culverts located in District 7. Their work includes: coordination of an accurate inventory of Caltrans’ culverts; identification, assessment and rating the condition of each culvert; determination of candidates for preventive maintenance; and recommending action for rehabilitation or replacement – all in an effort to avoid culvert failures and maintain a safe and effective culvert drainage system for the motoring public. Their work is accomplished by up-close-and-personal walkthrough inspections. However, if a more comprehensive inspection is required deeper inside the system or further underground, specialist culvert inspectors Tony Garcia and Ed Castro are called in.

Garcia and Castro have the unique responsibility of operating a specialized remote-control camera on wheels, often referred to as “the robot,” to inspect culverts where it is not possible for human beings to safely inspect. The state-of-the-art device is able to safely go where most have never gone before: underground and deep inside an underground culvert drainage system They are responsible for inspecting all of the District 7 storm drain system literally "from the inside out" via the video camera system. With the help of a special winch, it takes a minimum of two people to unload the heavy camera. One person operates the camera remotely while the other guides cable and the camera into and out of the culvert – sometimes hundreds of feet underground. The assessment includes condition of the culvert, as wells as the roadway and embankments alongside.

Using hand-held electronic data collectors and associated equipment, they also process the information received by the remote camera and offer technical support. The equipment stores the data electronically using special software, including the global position satellite, or GPS system. The GPS system helps to identify the location of each culvert including county, route and post mile, the type and size of each culvert, and any other pertinent environmental information.

Problems which could potentially be found include: clogged litter and debris, separation of joints, exposed reinforced steel, mud- and weed-clogged inlets, rusted steel, cracked concrete, or a distorted shape caused by a multitude of reasons. If problems are found, recommended maintenance activities or rehabilitation projects may be performed. There are also natural safety issues that may be discovered, such as poison oak, snakes and other animals and insects that have been discovered inside the drainage system. “Inspection data also helps to allocate additional funding for culvert preventive maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement projects, if needed,” said Dan Freeman, Deputy District Director for Maintenance. “The ultimate goal is to prevent sinkholes and catastrophic failures of the drainage systems.”

"I am proud to work with such to work such a highly dedicated staff," said Roger Castillo, Maintenance Manager, Hazardous Materials/Storm Water/Culvert Inspection Unit, who coordinates these efforts. "You can't tell just by looking because so much of the work they perform is underground, but what they do is vitally important to the integrity of the State Highway System. Not only do they provide an important service for Caltrans, but they also provide education to schools about the important of not littering and the Don't Trash California campaign." It takes a team of experts working together, year’ round, to maintain the safety, reliability and integrity of District 7’s Culvert Inspection Program.


Video Culvert Inspectors Tony Garcia (left) and Ed Castro, get the equipment ready to send the remote-control robot inside an underground culvert system. Video Culvert Inspector Tony Garcia with an up-close-and-personal look at the remote-control, culvert inspecting robot.