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FHWA Effectively Oversees Bridge Safety, But Opportunities Exist To Enhance Guidance and Address National Risks

Requested by the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Project ID: 
ST2015027

There are over 600,000 bridges on public roads that carry, on average, more than 4.6 billion vehicles per day. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) established the National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) to require inspections of public highway bridges, and FHWA oversees States’ efforts to ensure bridges within their jurisdictions are safe.  This is the second of two audits undertaken in response to a congressional request that we review FHWA’s efforts to improve bridge safety. We determined that FHWA, through its Division Offices, effectively implemented a data-driven, risk based approach to oversee States’ bridge inspection programs. However, we identified gaps in FHWA guidance—such as how FHWA Division Offices document their reviews of State bridge inspection programs—that could limit long-term success. Although FHWA established the National Bridge Inspection Program Oversight Team (NBIPOT) in 2010 to perform an annual risk assessment of the bridge safety inspection program, we found that the NBIPOT has not completed a formal assessment. FHWA is working to finalize its risk assessment process, but it currently lacks key elements such as specifying how NBIPOT will report on risks, or how FHWA will implement and track corrective actions. FHWA concurred with our five recommendations, which were focused on improving FHWA’s communication and program guidance and its efforts to effectively identify and address high-priority bridge safety risks.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

Closed on 11.07.2017
No. 1 to FHWA

Establish a consolidated source of guidance on documenting the National Bridge Inspection Standards oversight reviews in the Assessment Reporting Tool that allows Division Offices to easily identify or locate relevant information.

No. 2 to FHWA

Revise the quality assurance review process to fully communicate the results of the annual reviews to appropriate Division Offices and track the actions taken to address its recommendations.

No. 3 to FHWA

Revise Bridge Program Manual guidance to specify how Division Offices should combine and report results when separate assessments of the National Bridge Inspection Standards oversight metrics are performed.

No. 4 to FHWA

Establish a process for Division Offices to promptly inform the FHWA Headquarters Office of Bridges and Structures when additional resources are needed to complete a review of the State's bridge inspection program and for the Office of Bridges and Structures to coordinate the necessary support.

No. 5 to FHWA

Develop and implement a comprehensive risk management process for NBIPOT to identify, report, and track mitigation actions for high-priority risks to bridge safety at the national level. The process should incorporate best practices consistent with FHWA's risk management framework.