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GOA Recommends Corrosion Focus to FHWA

Monday, October 4, 2021

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Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office was tasked with reviewing the status of states' bridge corrosion-control planning per a provision made in House report 116-106.

According to the GOA, the report examined trends in the condition of bridges on the National Highway System and what is known about how corrosion affects bridge condition, and practices states use to address corrosion on NHS bridges and how selected states prioritize efforts to address corrosion.

Additionally, the report also looked at how the Federal Highway Administration assists states in addressing bridge corrosion.

MaYcaL / Getty Images

Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office was tasked with reviewing the status of states' bridge corrosion-control planning per a provision made in House report 116-106.

To collect data for its report, the GOA reviewed various reports, interviewed stakeholders, and spoke with officials from the FHWA, several states and other related associations.

U.S. Infrastructure & Deteriorating Bridges

In March, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, revealing a mediocre C-.

Of the 17 categories making up the overall grade, 11 were in the D range, indicating “significant deterioration” and that the structures are “approaching the end of their service life.” The categories included aviation, public parks, dams, roads, schools, hazardous waste, stormwater, inland waterways, transit, levees and wastewater.

In expanding on the nation’s bridges specifically, of the more than 617,000, 7.5% are considered structurally deficient and nearly 42% are at least 50 years old. The ASCE also estimated that the nation’s backlog of bridge repair requires $125 billion. Additional estimates revealed that spending on bridge rehabilitation would need to increase from the current $14.4 billion annually to $22.7 billion annually, or by 58%, if conditions are to improve.

Rhode Island has the greatest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, the report noted, with 22.3% of its bridges fitting the category. Nevada and Texas tied with the smallest percentage, with just 1.3% percent of its bridges counting.

The following month, the American Road and Transportation Association released its own analysis of the USDOT’s 2020 National Bridge Inventory database, finding that more than 220,000 of the nation’s bridges need major repair or should be replaced.

The 220,000 bridges represents 36%, or more than one-third, of all the nation’s bridges. In the report, the ARTBA points out that although the number of structurally deficient bridges declined 2.5% last year to 45,000, the number of bridges listed as being in fair condition increased by more than 3,600 to roughly 295,000.

In looking closer at those numbers, of the 45,000 structurally deficient bridges, nearly 11,200 are in serious or worse condition, with 1,668 listed as being in critical condition, 440 are in imminent failure stages and 970 that are already in a failed condition and are out of service.

To repair or replace the current backlog of structurally deficient bridges that ARTBA estimates that the work could take up to 40 years if completed at the current pace it’s working to now. The estimated cost to repair all the structurally deficient bridges is $41.8 billion, based on average cost data published by USDOT.

Study Results

In needing an estimated billions of dollars to complete repairs, including efforts to mitigate the effects of corrosion, the GOA reviewed the status of states' bridge corrosion-control planning.

For its report, the GOA reviewed applicable statutes, regulations, guidance and studies related to corrosion prevention and management, and analyzed data on NHS bridges. GAO selected five states—Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Rhode Island and Wyoming—based on factors, such as the percentage of bridge deck area in good and poor condition and geographic diversity.

As an extra measure, the GOA also interviewed FHWA, state transportation and various association officials and assessed FHWA's actions against internal controls for using quality information.

Having collected information through its efforts, the GOA found that although FHA researchers study a variety of factors that affect bridge conditions and provide technical assistance to states across the nation, state officials require more information on effective corrosion mitigation practices for specific environments and circumstances.

The percentage of bridges in “good” condition has been on the decline since 2016. Of the 146,000 bridges in the NHS, most are constructed using materials that are susceptible to corrosion. While state practices to prevent and manage corrosion will vary based on factors and bridge condition, officials report that their departments have limited resources when it comes to specific corrosion practices' effectiveness when implementing asset management practices.

For example, officials from some selected states said they use sealant on bridge decks to prevent corrosion while officials from another said they do not because they do not know how effective it is.

In their report, the GOA has recommended executive action that the Administrator of FHWA should ensure that FHWA's ongoing bridge preservation efforts include activities such as peer exchanges and case studies that focus on addressing the challenges states face with determining the circumstances under which specific corrosion practices and materials are most effective.

The GOA noted that its recommendations have been backed by the USDOT and had provided additional technical comments, which were included in the report where appropriate.

A full report can be viewed here.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Corrosion; Corrosion engineering; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Infrastructure; NA; North America; Quality Control; Transportation

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