DOT-OIG assesses FHWA oversight of Bridge Inspection Program

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The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office has issued its audit report on the Federal Highway Administration’s implementation of data-driven risk-based oversight of the National Bridge Inspection Program (NBIS). DOT-OIG says its objectives were to evaluate FHWA’s implementation of a data-driven risk-based oversight to target bridge safety risks most in need of attention, particularly those related to load ratings and postings; and promotion of state use of bridge management systems.

DOT-OIG’s review, issued Jan. 12, found that FHWA made limited progress implementing data-driven risk-based bridge oversight. Although FHWA’s annual review of state bridge inspection programs assured compliance with federal standards, it did not incorporate routinely a systematic data-driven approach to identifying, prioritizing and remediating nationwide bridge safety risks in coordination with states. Additionally, DOT-OIG says it found that FHWA could strengthen its role in expanding states’ use of bridge management systems, which are computerized systems that prioritize replacement and repair projects and help ensure bridge safety.

DOT-OIG says it recommends that the FHWA administrator develop and implement minimum requirements for data-driven risk-based bridge oversight during bridge engineers’ annual NBIS compliance reviews and develop a comprehensive plan to conduct routine systematic data-driven analysis to identify nationwide bridge safety risks, prioritize them and target those higher-priority risks for remediation in coordination with states. In implementing the plan, FHWA should direct the Office of Bridge Technology to routinely and systematically identify and prioritize nationwide bridge safety risks, and direct the division offices to work with states to remediate higher-priority nationwide bridge safety risks.

DOT-OIG says it also recommends that FHWA develop a requirement for states to correct promptly data inaccuracies found by FHWA’s NBI data validation program and increase FHWA’s use of element-level data by coordinating with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to update the standards for element-level data, incorporating AASHTO’s updated standards into the NBIS through the rulemaking process, and developing and implementing a plan to collect element-level data after AASHTO’s updated standards have been incorporated into the NBIS.

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DOT-OIG further recommended that FHWA initiate a program to collect data regularly on states’ use of bridge management systems, evaluate the data to identify those states most in need of assistance in implementing effective bridge management systems, and target those states for technical assistance and training resources.