State transportation departments provide new bridge-repair data to Federal Highway Administration

State transportation departments began providing new data on bridge conditions to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in April, enabling the agency to help ensure the safety of America’s bridges through its 30-year-old National Bridge Inspection Program.

Due to chronic underfunding, one in every four bridges in the U.S. needs improvement, and it is important to know where limited funds are needed most. Improving bridge data helps identify where to dedicate resources to ensure that key bridges remain in good enough condition to support the traveling public, businesses and the economy.

Traditionally, bridge inspectors have given one overall score to rate the condition of a bridge’s surface, or “deck,” and that single rating reflected both the severity of a problem and whether it was widespread or confined to a small area.

Under the new system, each square foot of the bridge deck and other elements, such as the joint seals, receives a separate rating. Dividing bridge components into smaller, more manageable elements ensures that engineers understand the extent of bridge deterioration. That, in turn, will help them make more informed decisions about repair, preservation and replacement.

Despite the backlog created by inadequate funding and short-term extensions of transportation law, FHWA’s ongoing commitment to improving the bridge program has led to an overall decrease in the percentage of structurally deficient bridges nationwide. During the past ten years, even as the total number of bridges in the nation increased, the percentage of bridges classified as structurally deficient or in need of repair, dropped from just more than 13 percent in 2005 to 10 percent last year.



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