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Audit: Base Bridge Inspections on Risk

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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Michigan bridge inspectors should spend more time inspecting structurally deficient spans, instead of checking thousands of bridges more often than necessary, state auditors have concluded.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is doing a "moderately effective" job at bridge inspection compliance, according to Auditor General Doug Ringler's audit report. Auditors assessed the agency's efforts to make sure its bridge inspection program complies with state and federal requirements for staff qualifications and inspection processes.

While ensuring that bridge inspections follow state and federal laws, MDOT could benefit from petitioning the Federal Highway Administration for permission to establish risk-based bridge inspections, auditors said.

Michigan Auditor General

"Although we recognize the importance of professional judgment in the inspection process, we also recognize the need to exercise caution when bridges are determined to be in poor condition," auditors concluded.

Following the collapse of a bridge in West Virginia in 1968, the Michigan Legislature enacted a law requiring MDOT to annually inspect all bridges and culverts under its jurisdiction. This was amended in 1982 to require biennial inspections.

Risk-Based Inspections

"A risk-based approach would help ensure timely inspection of the higher-risk structures without the need for additional resources," the report said.

This method would especially benefit locally owned bridges, as the audit found local bridge owners did not inspect all bridges with sufficient frequency or on a timely basis.

As of April 30, 2014, Michigan had 5,895 state-owned bridges and 6,500 locally owned bridges that require inspection at least every two years. As of the same date, the agency had four inspectors at its central office and 32 at its seven regional offices.

According to the audit, MDOT has identified over 3,000 state-owned bridges that would be good candidates for less frequent inspections.

The audit determined that two changes could significantly improve the efficiency of MDOT's bridge inspection program:

  • Consider seeking legislation amendments to establish risk-based bridge inspection frequencies; and
  • Ask the FHWA to lengthen the inspection intervals for state and locally owned bridges or categories of bridges that warrant longer intervals.

Need to Document

Thousands of state-owned bridges were documented as being inspected more frequently than necessary; however, there wasn't documentation to show that structurally deficient bridges were being inspected often enough, the audit said.

MDOT bridge inspections
Audit Report

This chart shows the overall condition ratings of state-owned National Bridge Inventory Bridges, by MDOT region, as of April 30, 2014.

The auditor sampled inspection reports for 50 of the 1,289 structurally deficient state or locally owned briges and found that in 26 cases, "bridge inspectors did not increase the routine inspection frequency, schedule special inspections, or document their rationale for not increasing the inspection frequencies."

The report said it had surveyed five states and found that they all required annual or more frequent inspections for all of their structurally deficient bridges.

"Although we recognize the importance of professional judgment in the inspection process, we also recognize the need to exercise caution when bridges are determined to be in poor condition," the report said.

MDOT Director Matt Chynoweth told the Detroit Free Press that the agency does inspect structurally deficient bridges more often—even as frequently as every three months. Now, Chynoweth said, MDOT is taking steps to make sure its policies are being enforced and inspectors will have to set a more frequent inspection schedule.

Audit Findings

Overall, the audit found that MDOT:

  • Needs comprehensive plans of action to better establish specific actions to take during flood events;
  • Had not instituted a sufficient process to ensure inspectors consistently increase bridge inspection frequency for each structurally deficient bridge or documented acceptable rationale for not doing so;
Michigan bridge audit

According to the audit, bridges with plywood false decking were not always adequately inspected.

  • Had not implemented sufficient measures to make sure local bridge owners and MDOT regional offices completed all routine inspection, inspections of underwater structural elements of bridges, and fracture critical member inspections in accordance with time frames in state and national standards;
  • Did not sufficiently document some of its follow-up actions related to late or potentially late bridge inspections;
  • Did not provide consistent guidance to inspectors regarding the inspection of bridges with plywood false decking;
  • Did not ensure all bridges with false decking were correctly identified in the bridge management system; and
  • Did not adequately inspect the underside of bridges with plywood false decking.

MDOT has agreed with all of the findings and has 60 days to develop a plan to comply with the audit recommendations.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Inspection; North America; Program/Project Management

Comment from Mark Puckett, (3/17/2015, 10:02 AM)

brilliant...our report shows you should ask us to use common sense instead of the guidelines we mandated on you..if you want to keep getting your money back from us that is...sorry for any inconvenience BTW...oops ...left that part out

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