FHWA Oversees Bridge Safety
Report Number: ST-2015-027
FHWA established a data-driven, risk-based approach to oversee States’ compliance with the NBIS, which its Division Offices have effectively implemented. However, we identified gaps in three areas of FHWA guidance that could limit the program’s long-term success. First, FHWA established the Assessment Reporting Tool (ART) to serve as a central repository of the NBIS reviews from Division Offices, but Division Offices lack a consolidated source of ART-related guidance. As a result, not all of the Division Offices we visited clearly understood the requirements for documenting their work in ART. Second, while FHWA established a Quality Assurance Review (QAR) process for the NBIS reviews recorded in ART, FHWA Headquarters does not fully communicate annual results to the appropriate Division Offices or formally track actions taken to correct documentation deficiencies. Consequently, not all of the Divisions we visited were aware of their specific QAR results, and Headquarters could miss opportunities to improve documentation of bridge oversight efforts. Finally, current FHWA guidance for Division Offices overseeing States’ bridge inspection programs does not explain how to combine separate assessments of a State’s bridge inspection program into a single rating or how FHWA Division Offices and Headquarters should coordinate when the Division Office’s resources are insufficient to fully review the State’s bridge inspection program. Thus, Division Offices may make different compliance determinations when combining assessments, and FHWA Headquarters may be unaware of resource gaps.
FHWA established the National Bridge Inspection Program Oversight Team (NBIPOT) in 2010 under the FHWA Headquarters Office of Bridges and Structures. One role of the NBIPOT is to perform an annual assessment of the bridge safety inspection program to routinely and systematically identify and prioritize national bridge safety risks. However, more than 4 years later, the NBIPOT has not completed a formal bridge safety risk assessment, although it is currently working to finalize its risk assessment process. FHWA officials explained that the delay was the result of the NBIPOT’s priority to first develop FHWA’s new national bridge safety initiative and ensure its successful implementation. The NBIPOT’s national bridge safety risk assessment process under development considers various sources of bridge safety information in order to identify, prioritize, and address bridge safety risks. However, the process does not include key elements, such as how the NBIPOT will report on risks or how it will implement and track any mitigation actions that the NBIPOT may recommend. The lack of a comprehensive risk management process limits the NBIPOT’s ability to consistently identify, report, and track high-priority risks to bridge safety at the national level.
We are making several recommendations to improve FHWA’s communication and program guidance and its efforts to ensure high-priority bridge safety risks are effectively identified and addressed.