National tunnel inspection safety standards proposed

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The Federal Highway Administration is requesting comment on a proposed new rule to establish national uniform standards for federal tunnel inspections. “Safety is our highest priority, and this is an important step to make our tunnels even safer,” says U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Establishing national standards will help us maintain a high level of safety and uniformity across the country in the inspection of tunnels.”

Currently, FHWA can and does provide tunnel inspection guidance, but existing regulations do not require tunnel owners, such as state departments of transportation or local authorities, to inspect tunnels. In addition, inspection methods vary significantly among the roughly estimated 350 highway tunnels in the country.

Referred to as National Tunnel Inspection Standards, the proposed new standards would be modeled after National Bridge Inspection Standards, the existing safety inspection program for bridges nationwide. The tunnel standards would include similar requirements for the inspection of structural and functional systems along with a national inventory of tunnels.

“The safety and security of our nation’s tunnels are of paramount importance,” FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez says. “Our goal is to help ensure that every inch of highway infrastructure is reliable and can support the needs of the traveling public.”

FHWA’s efforts to develop national tunnel inspection standards preceded the fatal July 2006 suspended ceiling collapse in the Central Artery Tunnel in Boston, Massachusetts, but that event brought national attention to the need for mandated and uniform tunnel inspections for public safety. Following its investigation of the collapse, the National Transportation Safety Board in recommendations reinforced the need for FHWA to establish such standards.