Monday, 10 March 2008
MSNBC.com recently posted a two-part article dealing with late or incomplete bridge inspections. The article claimed that more than 1,400 bridges on interstate highways have missed the two-year inspection cycle. The article cites the fact that significant percentages of the bridges in more than half of our states have not undergone safety inspections every two years as required by federal regulations. Each state has the responsibility to make sure its bridges are inspected on time. While the Federal Highway Administration has the power to withhold funds, this has not happened in the past 15 years.
MSNBC dug deep into the records of the inspection of bridges in various states. A number of states said that their bridges were inspected, but the data simply wasn't entered into the system before the deadline. State departments of transportation said that many of these overdue bridges were not their responsibility, as they are owned by cities, towns or counties. However, according to federal regulations, even though states can delegate the task of bridge inspection to local governments, they cannot delegate responsibility.
There is a loophole in federal regulations that allows extending scheduled bridge inspections to every four years instead of every two years. Nationally, 30,000 bridges are listed in the delayed inspection schedule and there may be bridges in poor condition among them. MSNBC found records showing 622 of "fracture-critical" bridges on four-year inspection timetables. Most states do not use this loophole and keep all bridges on a two-year schedule. Only 16 states recorded more than a handful of bridges on long schedules.
MSNBC was not critical of the inspection process and procedures used by the states and mandated by the federal government. The concern is the fact that bridges are not being inspected every two years. Should ASCE also offer its concern, and if so how?