FHWA Proposes New Transportation Standards


Last Tuesday (Nov. 24), the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding state department’s freeway and interstate highway design standards.

“The FHWA proposes to provide regulatory relief to states to address the immediate repair needs of our nation’s roadways without compromising safety and efficiency,” said Federal Highway Administrator Nicole R. Nason.

About the NPRM

The FHWA is currently accepting comments regarding its proposed revision to design standards and standard specifications in regard to specific projects conducted on the National Highway System. The revision plans to affect new construction, reconstruction, resurfacing (except for maintenance resurfacing), restoration and rehabilitation (RRR) projects on the NHS.

The proposal is pursuant to 23 U.S.C 315 and falls under the authority delegated to the Administration in 49 CFR 1.85. This rulemaking is not expressly required by statute. However, this rulemaking is necessary to implement provisions of 23 U.S.C. 109 regarding design standards and criteria.

Currently, existing design standards require that state DOTs meet new construction standards on freeway RRR projects, unless a design exception is approved. However, following recent national research, the FHWA has improved its understanding of the relationship between geometric design features, crash frequency and severity, and proposes to allow state DOTs to adopt procedures or design criteria (as approved by FHWA) that would enable the state to undertake RRR projects on freeways, including Interstate highways, without utilizing design exceptions.

According to the NPRM, the proposed rule would allow state departments to undertake resurfacing, restoration, and rehabilitation projects on freeways (including Interstate highways). The standards would be incorporated by referencing the latest versions of design standards and standard specifications previously adopted and incorporated by reference and would remove the corresponding outdated or superseded versions of these standards and specifications.

Several of these design standards and standard specifications were established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the American Welding Society and were previously adopted by FHWA through rulemaking.

The Engineering News-Record reports that American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the  National Asphalt Pavement Association are reviewing the new proposal and plan to file comments.

Public comments are being accepted until Dec. 24 via fax, mail, hand delivery or electronically; however late comments will be considered to the extent practicable.

A full copy of the NPRM can be viewed, here.

Other News in Transportation

Last month, the Senate Committee on Appropriations released all 12 of its fiscal year 2021 funding measures and subcommittee allocations, highlighting $74.8 billion for the transportation, housing, urban development and other related industries.

According to the last evaluation of the nation’s infrastructure conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017, America’s infrastructure report received a D+.

In the wake of COVID-19, legislators are looking at infrastructure as a means to aid in the recovery of the nation’s economy. Announced on Nov. 10, the Senate Committee on Appropriations reports that the funding measures are paving the way for negotiations to begin with the House of Representatives.

However, The Wall Street Journal reports that President-elect Joe Biden has also proposed a similar $2 trillion plan to the one House Democrats announced over the summer, funding transportation infrastructure as part of his efforts to combat climate change. Biden’s plan includes a major overhaul to the energy grid, retrofitting buildings and conducting research, which he says are expected to provide long-term gains.

Focusing on transportation and related industries—expected to receive $74.8 billion non-defense, $314 million defense—the funding measures plan to provide:

  • $1 billion for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants;
  • $1.1 billion for the Maritime Administration;
  • $2.8 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration;
  • $13 billion for the Federal Transit Administration;
  • $18 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration; and
  • $48.7 billion for the Federal Highway Administration (including $1.4 billion for bridges).

In total, the DOT is slated to receive $25.7 billion in discretionary budget authority and $61.3 billion in obligation limitation. Bill highlights regarding the agencies can be viewed, here.

And this time last year, the FHWA and U.S. Department of Transportation released a 102-page NPRM regarding updates to the National Bridge Inspection Standards. The changes are required as per The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which was passed into law by former President Barack Obama on Oct. 1, 2012.

According the FHWA, the updates will address MAP-21 requirements to "incorporate technological advancements including the use of unmanned aerial systems, and address ambiguities identified since the last update to the regulation in 2009.”

The summary also reports that the FHWA plans to repeal two outdated regulations: The Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program and the Discretionary Bridge Candidate Rating Factor.

In taking a more “risk-based approach,” the Administration states that the proposed changes were made to offer consistency with MAP-21’s provisions, “which includes new requirements for a highway bridge inspection program, maintaining a bridge inventory, and reporting to FHWA the inspection results and, in particular, critical findings, meaning any structural or safety-related deficiencies that require immediate follow-up inspection or action.”

The FHWA reports that the approach isn’t a requirement, but that bridge owners may choose to use it on some or all their bridge inventory. However, the mandated collection and use of element level bridge inspection data will be required. The FHWA has offered guidance regarding these changes in a document titled, “Specification For The National Bridge Inventory Bridge Elements.”

A proposal for reestablishing inspection intervals—based on certain factors—has also been made. While an inspection interval tolerance of three months beyond the inspection date has been proposed, extended routine inspection intervals up to 48 months, and 72 months for underwater inspections have also been established.

In addition to these major changes, the FHWA will also be repealing The Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program and the Discretionary Bridge Candidate Rating Factor, and has proposed several new terms in order to promote clarity and uniformity in the regulations to be implemented.

The new rulemaking is slated to cost approximately $1.65 million annually. Comments on the NPRM were originally being received until Jan. 13, 2020, but were extended to March 13—a 60-day extension.


Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Regulations; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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