Program calls for greater detail on bridge conditions
In an April 27 press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will begin collecting new data that will help the agency more closely monitor bridge conditions throughout the nation. The new program calls for state departments of transportation to provide the new data to FHWA’s National Bridge Inspection Program.
“Smart data can drive smart infrastructure planning and make transportation safer,” Foxx said. “We can use this data to help state and local governments target bridge investments, but the single biggest impact on roads, bridges, and all modal transportation is the long-term transportation bill [that FHWA] sent to Congress.”
That bill—the Grow America Act—would invest $317 billion over six years for federal highway programs, representing nearly $12 billion more per year than under current law, according to the press release.
The release noted that bridge inspectors have traditionally given one overall score to rate the condition of a bridge’s surface, or “deck,” to reflect both the severity of a problem and whether it is widespread or confined to a small area of the bridge deck. Under the new system, each square foot of the bridge deck, and its other elements, such as the joint seals, receive a separate rating.
Dividing bridge components into smaller more manageable elements will ensure engineers understand the extent of bridge deterioration, which will help them make more informed decisions about repair, preservation, and replacement. The change in data collection is a requirement in the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP–21) Act.
“This is part of our ongoing commitment to improving the bridge program that has led to the overall decrease in the percentage of deficient bridges nationwide,” said deputy FHWA administrator Gregory Nadeau.
The press release said that in the past decade, even as the total number of bridges in the nation’s inventory increased by nearly 15,000 bridges—from 595,668 to 610,749—the percentage of bridges classified as structurally deficient dropped from 13% in 2005 to 10% last year.
The FHWA provides funding to assist states in replacing, rehabilitating, and preserving bridges. The agency also helps ensure the safety of U.S. bridges through federal inspection regulations and the oversight of state safety programs.