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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-10-004    Date:  May/June 2010
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-004
Issue No: Vol. 73 No. 6
Date: May/June 2010


The National Highway Institute (NHI)

Training Update

by Amanda Moss and Diana Duvall

Bridge Inspection Training Hones Critical Techniques

Inspection and maintenance of the Nation's bridges are essential to the safety and mobility of the highway system. Proper bridge inspection requires not only an eye for intricate detail, but also knowledge of common problems. To ensure that all bridge inspectors are armed with the proper techniques, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed the National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS).

According to the NBIS, each inspection must be conducted by at least one team leader. To be certified as a team leader, an inspector must complete an FHWA-approved comprehensive training program. The National Highway Institute (NHI) course Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges (FHWA-NHI-130055) is one training program that potential team leaders can use to fulfill this requirement.

"We developed this NHI course to meet the requirements of law, raise the national level of understanding, and provide more uniform bridge safety inspections and ratings," says Gary Moss, a senior structural engineer at FHWA who helped develop the course.

About the Course

The 10-day NHI course teaches Federal, State, and local highway agency employees and contractors proper bridge inspection techniques. Participants learn to evaluate a variety of bridge types and determine the critical areas for inspection. They are taught the common points of deterioration, including underwater portions, and learn to evaluate the deterioration.

As part of the course, participants visit and inspect at least two bridges. This hands-on portion is critical, as it allows participants to apply the knowledge they gained in the classroom. Participants practice assigning evaluations according to coding guidance developed by FHWA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, or State highway agencies. The course also teaches participants to recognize when it is necessary to recommend further inspection or even bridge closure. Because of the level of detail and the importance of the material covered, the course attracts engineers and inspectors of all levels, not just those looking to become team leaders.

"It's amazing -- many of the participants will tell me they never knew that bridges have so many defects," says Tom Ryan, project manager at a professional engineering company and a course instructor/developer. "This course provides participants with many 'aha!' moments. It opens their eyes to pertinent details and defects they may have overlooked before. You can almost see the light bulb...when they grasp a particular concept that reinforces the inspection techniques we present in class."

Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges is one of NHI's most popular offerings and has been presented to thousands of participants. NHI is updating the course curriculum to include the latest inspection techniques, such as nondestructive evaluation.

TFHRC Labs Enhance Training

Participants in the August 3-14, 2009, session of the course participated in a unique, hands-on learning opportunity -- a tour of the laboratories at FHWA's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, VA. For a half day, course participants visited various labs, including the Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) Center.

The NDE Center develops and tests nondestructive evaluation technologies that assess the condition of in-service highway bridges. Researchers evaluate existing technologies and develop new tools to improve the state of the practice for bridge (and pavement) inspection. The center is dedicated to advancing NDE technologies for highway bridges and works closely with State departments of transportation to identify and solve inspection challenges.

Visiting the TFHRC labs taught participants a variety of special skills, such as ways to determine the condition of steel coatings and how to determine whether concrete is deteriorating simply by hitting it with a hammer and listening to the noise it makes.

"NHI truly enjoys collaborating with TFHRC," says Louisa Ward, training program manager at NHI. "In fact, we also developed a 1-day seminar together with the TFHRC NDE Center, Bridge Inspection Non-Destructive Evaluation Showcase [(BINS) (FHWA-NHI-130099)]," she adds. BINS is a demonstration-based seminar that exposes bridge inspectors to more efficient and more effective inspection tools and techniques.

NHI continues to work with many partners, including TFHRC, to develop and enhance training for bridge inspectors. For more information or to register for courses, visit www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov.

A researcher at TFHRC demonstrates ground penetrating radar during a facility tour for participants in the NHI course Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges.
A researcher at TFHRC demonstrates ground penetrating radar during a facility tour for participants in the NHI course Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges.

Amanda Moss is a contractor for NHI.

Diana Duvall is a contractor for FHWA.



Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101