By Mark Holan, editorial director, ARTBA

Dr. Joseph (Joey) Hartmann, director of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Office of Bridges and Structures May 13 updated ARTBA’s 2019 Federal Issues Program about the agency’s evolving bridge and tunnel inspection criteria. His presentation came less than 24 hours after the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) closed the Jefferson Barracks Bridge near St. Louis. A routine inspection found emergency repairs are needed.

The Office of Bridges and Structures is responsible for the development and implementation of federal regulations, policy, and technical guidance that support bridge and tunnel programs to improve safety and design practice at the national level. The 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) directed the FHWA to “consider a risk-based approach to determining the frequency of bridge inspections.” A data-driven pilot testing program is now getting off the ground in four states, Hartmann said.

The approach prioritizes bridges according to their inspection needs; considers age, materials, and environment; and accounts for other risks. The aim is better, more effective and purposeful inspections based on engineering assessments of risk, rather than the current calendar-based strategy. The risk-based strategy also aims to allocate resources more effectively to improve safety.

Missouri inspection crews May 12 found cracks in steel beams in the Barracks Bridge, which was built in 1985, according to news reports. The bridge over the Mississippi River will be closed to traffic until crews determine what repairs are needed.

Of the 24,512 bridges in the state, 2,116, or 8.6 percent, are classified as structurally deficient, according to ARTBA’s 2019 Bridge Report. The state has identified needed repairs on 4,811 bridges at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.

Nationwide, the first quarter 2019 bridge market was “a little stronger” than the same period last year, ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black told the meeting. Her assessment of U.S. bridge market opportunities can be found on page 18 of the March/April issue of Transportation Builder magazine.

Hartmann noted that an FY2018 competitive highway bridge program offering $225 million received 56 applications requesting $654 million total. Those awards are still being assessed. An FY2019 formula-based bridge replacement and rehabilitation program is distributing $475 million to projects in areas with populations below 200,000 people.

Hartmann’s presentation was hosted by ARTBA’s Bridge Policy and Promotion Council and the Industry Leader Development Council.