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Audits Target FHWA’s Bridge Programs

Friday, August 23, 2013

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Bridge safety across the United States is getting renewed federal attention with a series of audits aimed at examining the Federal Highway Administration’s management of measures to ensure bridge safety.

The initial audit, in a planned series of audits, will assess FHWA's actions in response to deficiencies identified in three prior reports that recommended improvements to the FHWA's oversight of bridge programs, as well as bridge safety provisions in Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the Office of Inspector General announced.

The audit was requested by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, after a bridge over the Skagit River in Washington collapsed in May.

FHWA bridge audit

The Office of Inspector General announced that it will audit the Federal Highway Administration's efforts to target bridge safety risks.

"Thousands of bridges across the country are carrying loads that they were not designed to accomodate and are in use well beyond their life expectancy," Rahall said.

"In addition to appropriately investing in the repair and replacement of these aging structures, we need to ensure that measures designed to ensure bridge safety are being properly administered."

'Renewed Attention' to Bridge Safety

The four-lane bridge collapsed into the Skagit River on May 23 after an 18-wheeler carrying an oversized load collided with the overhead structure of the bridge. No fatalities were reported, but the collapse "brought renewed attention to the safety and conditions of the Nation's bridges," the OIG said.

Between 2006 and 2010, the OIG issued three reports on FHWA's bridge oversight; these reports will be the target of the new audit.

In 2010, the OIG said that FHWA needed to do more to target higher priority bridge safety risks and strengthen oversight of states' use of federal bridge funding.

According to the OIG, the previous reports found that:

  • "Inaccurate or outdated maximum weight limit calculations and posting entries were recorded in bridge databases of the state transportation departments and in the National Bridge Inventory";
  • FHWA made "limited progress implementing data-driven, risk-based bridge oversight" and "did not incorporate routinely a systematic data-driven approach to identifying, prioritizing, and remediating nationwide bridge safety risks in coordination with states"; and
  • "FHWA lacks sufficient data to evaluate states' use of [Highway Bridge Program] HBP funds because the agency is unable to link expenditures of HBP funds to improvements made to deficient bridges."

A complete list of audit reports can be found here.

Skagit River bridge collapse
Twitter / ByManuelValdes

A bridge over the Skagit River in Washington collapsed on May 23 after a truck hit part of the overhead structure. The Office of Inspector General cited this incident as bringing "renewed attention to the safety and conditions of the Nation's bridges."

MAP-21, the second focus of the initial audit, was the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005. President Barack Obama signed it into law in July 2012, giving over $105 billion to funding surface transportation programs for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

MAP-21 is intended to create a streamlined and performance-based surface transportation program.

Summer of Infrastructure Bills

In June, Rahall introduced the Strengthen and Fortify Existing (SAFE) Bridges Act to provide dedicated funding for states "to start to reduce the backlog of more than 150,000 bridges ... that have reached or are nearing the end of their expected lifespan."

"The [Skagit River] bridge that gave way was just one of thousands across the country that have exceeded their life expectancy and are in need of replacement," Rahall said when announcing the bill.

A week before the SAFE Bridges Act was introduced, the Government Accountability Office informed the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies that one out of four bridges in the U.S. was classified as deficient.

In May, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) proposed a bill to fix deteriorating roads and bridges by using tax dividends from overseas corporations with shareholders in the U.S. The bill, S.911, "A bill to establish an emergency transportation safety fund, and for other purposes," has not made any progress since it was introduced.

Meanwhile, two versions of the "Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriates Act, 2014," has seen little action this month. The House decided on July 30 to leave their version of the bill, H.R. 2610, "as unfinished business." The Senate's last action on their version, S.1243, was a decision not to invoke cloture on the measure by a yea-nay vote of 54-43.

Last month, the White House showed strong opposition to the House version of THUD, stating that if the bill was presented to President Obama, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Infrastructure; Laws and litigation

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