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FHWA to expand inspection requirements for bridges

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The Federal Highway Administration released a final rule that will extend inspection requirements for some of the nation’s bridges from 24 months to 48 months and, in some cases, to 72 months.

The final rule, announced in a May 6 Federal Register article, will also allow the use of technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles and sonar to perform some of the inspections.

FHWA’s new bridge inspection regulations are intended to comply with provisions contained in MAP-21, the Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2012 that established new requirements to update the National Inspection Standards Program bridges. The standards program maintains an inventory of bridges and reports bridge inspection results to FHWA, particularly critical findings of structural or safety-related deficiencies.

The FHWA said the new rule also repeals two outdated regulations: the Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program and the Bridge Candidate Discretionary Scoring Factor.

Two provisions of the regulations have been amended to allow special inspection instead of routine or underwater inspections at reduced intervals. “This modification provides an option to monitor areas of concern, rather than requiring an inspection of the entire bridge at reduced intervals,” the FHWA said.

“Periodic and thorough inspections of our nation’s bridges are necessary to maintain safe operation of bridges and prevent structural and functional failures,” the rule reads. “Additionally, data on the condition and operation of our nation’s bridges is necessary for bridge owners to make informed investment decisions as part of an asset management program.”

The regulations require bridge inspections on all public roads, on and off federally assisted highways, including tribal and federally owned bridges, and private bridges connected at either end by a public road, said the agency.

The new rule establishes updates to allow for extended routine inspection intervals of up to 48 months and 72 months for underwater inspections, the FHWA said. “Similarly, requirements are described to allow the establishment of more rigorous, risk-based intervals, taking into account certain factors associated with bridges for routine, underwater and non-redundant inspections of tension elements in steel that would allow certain inspection intervals to go up to 72 months. .”

FHWA Federal Register, Bridges by Transportation Topics on Scribd

The risk-based approach intervals will allow many bridges to move to a 48-month interval, which offers “substantial relief from current requirements,” the agency said. “FHWA will continue to evaluate research in this area and performance of this stage and may consider longer intervals in future regulations.”

Changing inspection intervals should reduce some costs, according to the FHWA.

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s 2022 Bridge Report, more than 43,500 bridges are deemed to be in poor condition and classified as “structurally deficient”. Motorists pass through these structures 167.5 million times a day, according to the report.

“Thirty-six percent of America’s bridges — nearly 224,000 spans — need repair work, and 78,800 bridges need replacing,” the ARTBA report said.

The good news is that the number of structurally deficient bridges decreased by 1,445 compared to 2020, according to the report. “At the current rate, it would take nearly 30 years to fix them all,” he said.

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The report says nearly half of the 619,588 U.S. bridges, or 48 percent, are deemed to be in good condition, meaning the bridge shows signs of minor deterioration or minor cracks. The number of bridges in good condition increased by 2,916 in 2021 to reach 297,888 structures.

“Risk-based inspection intervals will promote more efficient use of bridge inspection resources over time,” wrote engineering firm Greenman Pedersen Inc. of Albany, NY, in its comments on the rule proposed by the FHWA in 2019. “For example, the inspection time gained from the greater inspection interval of bridges in good condition could be added to the inspection time of bridges in fair and poor condition. Additionally, as agencies implement and increase their bridge preservation activities on their bridges in good condition, these activities will result in additional inspection opportunities between their scheduled bridge inspections.

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