FHWA Inspection Program Celebrates 50 Years


Observed during the last week of April, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration celebrated the 50th anniversary of its National Bridge Inspection Standards.

“For a half-century, NBIS standards have been at the core of federal infrastructure safety efforts,” Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said. “The data we collect under the program help keep bridges safe and identify areas where maintenance is needed before problems arise.”

According to Administration, the NBIS program was officially adopted on April 27, 1971, after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in West Virginia, which claimed the lives the 46 people. With authority provided by Congress in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, the NBIS became first federal level bridge safety program.

The federal program is currently responsible for the protection of all highway bridges on public roads, totaling nearly 620,000 bridges. However, with that many structures, the program does rely heavily on its robust inventory of bridges, in addition to a schedule of regular and thorough inspections completed by trained inspectors.

These inspections are typically carried out by state departments of transportation once every 24 months and the results are reported to the FHWA regarding any potential structural problems early on and to ensure that maintenance efforts are being carried out successfully. The information is also used as date collection for the Administration’s inventory, which helps transportation officials make informed decisions about funding priorities.

During inspections, bridges and their various component parts—ranging from pilings to deck slabs—are checked for safety, any identifiable damages, deterioration or defects. If a structure is rated as potentially unsafe, the FHWA recommends immediate actions such as closures, prompt repairs or even load posting to restrict used by heavy vehicles.

Through the program, the FHWA also assess compliance with regulations through a separate annual review process.

“The NBIS is vital to bridge safety in our nation,” Pollack added. “The Administration’s American Jobs Plan proposes significant investment in our nation’s bridges to continue improve their condition and make them even safer.”

Even as the number of bridges in the NBIS program grew from 587,735 to 618,456 over the last 20 years, the program continues to ensure they are safe for the public. In that same time period, the percentage of bridges in poor condition dropped from 15.2% to 7.2%.

Moving forward, the FHWA plans to continue to strengthen the program, by updating training requirements for bridge inspectors, and replacing narrative bridge inspection summaries with specific assessment criteria to improve consistency.

Bridge Reports, Funding

Also in April, the American Road and Transportation Association conducted its own analysis, finding that more than 220,000 of the nation’s bridges need major repair or should be replaced. The analysis was reported using information from the U.S. Department of Transportation 2020 National Bridge Inventory database.

The 220,000 bridges represent 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 bridge is $41.8 billion, based on average cost data published by USDOT.

In March, President Joe Biden released the “American Jobs Plan,” a $2 trillion spending proposal that aims to invest in the nation by creating millions of good jobs, rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, and positioning the United States to out-compete China.

Looking at specific investments, the plan allots $621 billion to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure; $689 billion for buildings and utilities; and $500 billion for worker training, research and development and domestic manufacturing initiatives.

Regarding infrastructure specifically, the plan is expected to provide $115 billion to modernize the bridges, highways, roads, and main streets. It will also fix the ten most economically significant bridges in need of reconstruction and repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, reconnecting communities across the country.

According to an article published by The Hill, Biden hopes the package is passed by Congress by this summer. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted that the longer timeline could allow for more negotiations with congressional Republicans and Democrats as it doesn’t require the same type of urgency as the prior relief plan.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Certifications and standards; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Inspection; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Regulations

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