Bridges are an integral part of the U.S. highway network, providing links across natural barriers, passage over railroads and highways, and freeway connections. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) maintains a database of our nation’s highway bridges–the National Bridge Inventory (NBI)–with detailed information on all public road bridges greater than 20 feet. This special report gives a brief synopsis of that inventory, including bridge condition and the resources spent for maintenance and upgrades.
The Inspector General testified on September 5, 2007, before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The Inspector General’s statement highlighted bridge safety and funding as significant issues for the Department of Transportation, discussed previous work regarding structurally deficient bridges in the United States, and made observations on the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) actions to address prior OIG recommendations regarding improving its oversight of such bridges. The Inspector General called on FHWA to develop a data-driven, risk-based approach to bridge oversight to better identify and target those structurally deficient bridges most in need of attention. Additionally, the Inspection General described actions that can be taken immediately to strengthen the FHWA’s oversight.
Source: Aileen Cho, Tom Ichniowski and William Angelo with reporting from Tom Armistead, Craig Barner, Lucy Bodilly, Eileen Schwartz, Tudor Van Hampton and Deb Wood, Engineering News Record, Vol. 259 no. 6, August 13, 2007
Just as West Virginia’s Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 marked a new era for bridge inspections and awareness of U.S. infrastructure issues, so will Minnesota’s Interstate 35W bridge collapse be another ante-upping chapter. The chapter is still being written. U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has vowed a “top-to-bottom review” of federal bridge inspection guidelines. The specific structural issues that may be reshaped depend largely on what the National Transportation Safety Board will determine from its investigation. Fatigue cracks, lack of redundancy, bearings corrosion, welding codes–a variety of possible factors have been thrust on the national stage. But engineers caution against premature theories regarding why the 40-year-old steel truss bridge collapsed Aug. 1. What does seem clear is that this will lead to updates in inspection guidelines, increased use of monitoring technologies and renewed attention to the complex issue of funding.
Potholes, rough surfaces, and rusting bridges are manifestations of America’s deteriorating infrastructure, tragically demonstrated with the disaster in Minneapolis.
State and local leaders are already clamoring for more federal money to prevent future tragedies. But just two years ago, states got a mammoth $244 billion for transportation. But the bill also contained over 6,000 earmarks, many dedicated to new projects, and awarded with no coherent plan or national priority.
The Metropolitan Policy Program’s Transportation Reform Series, led by Fellow Robert Puentes, has broadly reassessed the nation’s transportation policies, providing options beyond the current hodgepodge of pet projects, to better address these critical needs.