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Bridges & Structures

Superseded on 04/01/2013 by Metrics for the Oversight of the National Bridge Inspection Program (.pdf)

Subject: Information: Compliance with the National Bridge Inspection Standards, Frequency of Inspection and Load Posting of Bridges Date: May 14, 1985
From: Executive Director Reply to:
Attn. of:
To: Regional Federal Highway Administrators
Regions 1-10
Direct Federal Program Administrator

The management review report for the Federal-aid bridge program was transmitted to all FHWA Regional Administrators for review and comment on February 6. Recommendations from the report were presented to Federal Highway Administrator R.A. Barnhart late in February. As the result of your comments and the presentation to the Administrator, a revised action plan for carrying out recommendations in the report has been approved.

One major phase of the action plan pertains to improved State and local government compliance with National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS).

Based upon the site visits to the nine division offices and States selected for the review, from comments and suggestions from FHWA field staff and from the most current national bridge inventory data, it is clear that stronger FHWA action is needed to improve compliance with the frequency of inspection and load posting requirements of the NBIS.

The NBIS requirement that each highway bridge carrying a public road be inspected and evaluated for safety at regular intervals, not to exceed 2 years, is for the most part met by bridge owners. However, there are, according to national bridge inventory data, a number of bridges on the Federal-aid system and a much larger number of bridges off the Federal-aid system where inspection frequency is marginally to substantially out of date.

The second major NBIS requirement is that each bridge be rated as to its safe load capacity. If the maximum legal load under State law exceeds the operating rating for the bridge, the bridge must be immediately strengthened, closed or posted in conformance with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Manual for Maintenance Inspection of Bridges or State law.

A significant number of bridges, some on the Federal-aid system but most off the Federal-aid system, which should be load restricted or closed, are not currently shown by national bridge inventory data to be properly load posted.

A spirit of cooperation between the States, local governments, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the FHWA has for the most part brought about a very effective National Bridge Inspection Program which provides the public with assurances that bridges are safe to use. However, there are some local governmental entities and a few States who, for various reasons, are not earnestly pursuing NBIS compliance on all public roads. According to the attached National Bridge Inventory data, in approximately one-third of the States, more than 10 percent of the bridges on the Federal-aid system either have not been inspected in the last 3 years or have not been properly posted. The inventory data indicates similar deficiencies in more than one-half of the States for bridges that are off the Federal-aid system.

Inadequacies with respect to frequency of inspection and load posting may directly jeopardize public safety and, as much, are serious matters requiring strong action on FHWA's part. Therefore, in accordance with Section 116 of Title 23, approval of Federal-aid funds within a State or local jurisdiction is conditional on compliance by the State or local jurisdictions with the NBIS.

Therefore, during the next 30 days, a review of individual conditions in each State should be made to determine which governmental entities, if any, are not in compliance with NBIS requirements. The paramount consideration in making such determinations is the continued safety of the traveling public and, in this vein, perfunctory findings of satisfactory compliance should not be made. In those States or local jurisdictions where substantial NBIS deficiencies are confirmed, the State is to be notified that to avoid suspension of Federal-aid in the jurisdiction involved, one of the following actions is required:

(1) correction of NBIS deficiencies, or

(2) submission, for approval by FHWA, of an aggressive, short-term plan to correct NBIS deficiencies.

An acceptable plan shall be one which accomplishes NBIS compliance within the minimum practicable time frame.

Approval of further Federal-aid projects should be suspended in those governmental entities that:

(1) after 90 days from the date of notification are not complying with the NBIS frequency and load posting requirements and do not have a satisfactory plan for correcting the deficiencies, or

(2) are not carrying out the plan to correct NBIS deficiencies satisfactorily and on schedule.

Your expeditious action to convey this FHWA policy to FHWA divisions and States is requested. Also, please report on this item in the monthly narrative.

Individual comments, questions, discussions or requests for technical assistance in particular situations may be addressed to Mr. Stanley Gordon of the Bridge Division (FTS 426-0426).

/s/ Original Signed by
R. D. Morgan

23 CFR 650

Updated: 06/27/2017
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