Order Code RL34127
Conditions and the Federal/State Role
Updated September 19, 2008
Robert S. Kirk
Specialist in Transportation Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
William J. Mallett
Specialist in Transportation Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Conditions and the Federal/State Role
The sudden failure and collapse of the I-35W Interstate System bridge in
Minneapolis has raised policy concerns in Congress regarding the condition of the
nation’s transportation infrastructure in general, and in particular the federal role in
funding, building, maintaining, and ensuring the safety of roads and especially
bridges in the United States. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
expects to determine probable cause of the collapse by the end of 2008. An interim
NTSB finding implicated a flaw in the original bridge design as a contributing factor.
Of the 600,000 public road bridges listed in the National Bridge Inventory,
roughly 12%, or 72,000, were classified as structurally deficient as of 2007. This is,
however, roughly half the number classified as deficient in 1990. Given the I-35W
collapse, however, even this lower number of deficient bridges leaves Americans
potentially exposed to what some might consider an unacceptable level of risk. A
policy question is how quickly can and should the remaining deficient bridges be
replaced or improved? At current annual spending levels, roughly $10.5 billion (2004
dollars at all levels of government), the bridge investment backlog (in dollar terms)
would be reduced by roughly half by 2024. Reducing the backlog to near zero during
the same period would require an estimated annual spending rate of roughly $12.4
billion (in 2004 dollars).
The Emergency Relief Program (ER), administered by the Federal Highway
Administration (FHWA), provides funding for bridges damaged in natural disasters
or by catastrophic failures. The program provides funds for emergency repairs
immediately after the failure to restore essential traffic, as well as for longer-term
permanent repairs. The funds, for both the initial cleanup and for the replacement of
the I-35W bridge, will come from this program. P.L. 110-56 authorized ER spending
for the I-35W bridge.
In the broader context, most federal funding, for bridge reconstruction,
replacement, or repair of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges, is
provided through the FHWA’s Highway Bridge Program (HBP). Many credit this
program as an important reason for the decline in the number of deficient bridges
over the last 15 or so years. Although ER and HBP are federal programs, most of the
money provided is under the control of the states. The state departments of
transportation let the contracts, oversee the project development and construction
process, and, in particular, provide for the inspection of bridges.
Among the congressional issues regarding the nation’s highway bridge
infrastructure are whether to increase spending on deficient bridges and accordingly
modify the federal-aid highway programs; whether to enlarge the federal role in
bridge inspection; and, within the context of large projected deficits in highway trust
fund revenues, how to fund potential increased spending on highway bridges. An
Act, H.R. 3999, that has passed in the House, would address some of these issues.
In the Senate, H.R. 3999 was ordered reported without amendment favorably by the
Committee on Environment and Public Works on September 17, 2008.
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Bridge Characteristics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Bridge Conditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Future Bridge Funding Needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Bridge Infrastructure: The Federal/State Role . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
The Highway Bridge Program (HBP) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Funding “Flexibility” and HBP Spending . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Bridge Inspection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
FHWA’s Emergency Relief Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigation of the
Bridge Collapse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The NTSB’s Interim Safety Recommendation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Issues for Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Condition of the Nation’s Bridges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Providing More Money for Bridges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
GAO Report on the Highway Bridge Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Missouri’s Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Flexibility and Transferability Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
The HBP Apportionment Formula: a Disincentive to the Elimination of
Deficient Bridges? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Spending of HBP Funding on Off-Federal-Aid System Bridges . . . . . . . . . 23
Maintenance vs. Replacement and Reconstruction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Oversight and Inspection Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Risk-Based Approach to Federal Bridge Oversight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Oversight of State Transportation Implementation Plans (STIPs) . . . . 24
Oversight of Bridge Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Inspection Auditing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Inspector Training and Personnel Qualifications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Emergency Relief Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Caveats on Spending Statistics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Legislative Initiatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007
(H.R. 3999) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Bridge Inventory Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Frequency of Bridge Inspections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
State Performance Plans and Bridge Management System . . . . . . . . . 30
National Bridge Inventory Information Availability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
National Bridge Inspection Program (NBIP) Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Program Manager and Team Leader Qualifications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Bridge Closure Impacts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Government Accountability Office (GAO) Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Surface Transportation Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Authorization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Information and Reports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Flexible Funding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Definitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
Bridge Advanced Condition Assessment Pilot Program . . . . . . . . . . . 32
GAO Study on the Bridge Rating System Effectiveness . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Use of Carbon Fiber Composite Materials . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Corrosion Mitigation and Prevention Plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Flood Risks to Bridges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
National Tunnel Inspection Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Appendix A. Bridge Condition by State . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Appendix B. Transfers from the Highway Bridge Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Appendix C. Federal Bridge Obligations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
List of Figures
Figure 1. Structurally Deficient Bridges in the United States, 1990-2007 . . . . . . 3
List of Tables
Table 1. Projected Changes in 2024 Bridge Investment Backlog Compared
with 2004 Levels for Different Possible Funding Levels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Table 2. Highway Bridge Program Apportionments and Obligations . . . . . . . . . . 9
Table 3. ER Funding for the I-35W Bridge Collapse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Table 4. Bridge Condition by State as of August 13, 2007 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Table 5. HBR Transfers to Other FHWA Programs: FY2000-August 8, 2007 . 36
Table 6. Bridge Obligations by Fiscal Year and Program, FY2000-FY2007:
as of August 10, 2007 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Conditions and the Federal/State Role
The sudden collapse of the I-35W Interstate System bridge in Minneapolis has
raised policy concerns in Congress regarding the condition of the nation’s
transportation infrastructure in general, and in particular the federal role in funding,
building, maintaining and assuring the safety of roads and especially bridges in the
United States. Highway bridges are of particular interest both because of the recent
tragedy in Minneapolis and the catastrophic results of a major bridge failure, in terms
of loss of life and public interest impact. Both the federal government’s response to
catastrophic bridge failures and its role in helping states address structurally deficient
bridges have come under increased public scrutiny since the August 1, 2007, bridge
collapse. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation of the
I-35W bridge collapse is ongoing. Probable cause of the collapse is expected to be
determined when the final report is presented to the NTSB, sometime before the end
of 2008. The NTSB, on January 15, 2008, released an interim finding that an error
in the original design appears to have contributed to the failure.1
This report examines the federal and state roles in the maintenance, inspection,
reconstruction, and replacement of the nation’s highway bridge infrastructure, as well
as the emergency response and reconstruction role of the Department of
Transportation (DOT). The report first describes what is known about the condition
of the nation’s bridges and whether the problem of structural deficiency is improving
or worsening. It then briefly describes the programmatic and budgetary context,
including federal efforts to reduce the number of deficient bridges, and examines
highway bridge spending. The report discusses issues Congress is facing face in light
of the I-35W bridge collapse and the emergence of questions about the
appropriateness and effectiveness of related federal infrastructure policies, programs,
and spending. Finally, the report describes a number of legislative initiatives that
have been proposed.
There are nearly 600,000 public road bridges in the United States, as
documented in the National Bridge Inventory (NBI), that are subject to the National
See National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB Urges Bridge Owners to Perform Load
Capacity Calculations Before Modifications; I-35W Investigation Continues, available at
Bridge Inspection Standards.2 Almost all of these bridges are owned by either state
or local government, 48% and 51% respectively. Only 1% are owned by the federal
government (these are primarily on federally owned land). About 40% of bridges
serve local roads, 33% serve Interstate or other arterial highways, and 27% serve
collectors.3 Interstate bridges comprise about 9% of all bridges, with about half in
urban areas and half in rural areas. Interstate and other arterial bridges carry almost
90% of average daily traffic (ADT). Urban Interstate bridges alone carried 35% of
ADT in 2004.4
Federal law requires states to periodically inspect public road bridges and to
report these findings to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This
information permits FHWA to characterize the existing condition of a bridge
compared with one newly built and to identify those that are deficient, either
structurally or functionally. A bridge is considered structurally deficient
if significant load-carrying elements are found to be in poor or worse condition
due to deterioration and/or damage, or the adequacy of the waterway opening
provided by the bridge is determined to be extremely insufficient to the point of
causing intolerable traffic interruptions.5
A bridge classified as structurally deficient is not necessarily unsafe, but may require
the posting of a vehicle weight restriction.
A functionally obsolete bridge, on the other hand, is one where its current
geometric characteristics — deck geometry (such as the number and width of lanes),
roadway approach alignment, and underclearances — are deficient compared with
current design standards and traffic demands. A bridge can be both structurally
deficient and functionally obsolete, but structural deficiencies take precedence. As
a result, a bridge that is structurally deficient and functionally obsolete is classified
in the FHWA NBI as structurally deficient. About half of structurally deficient
bridges are also functionally obsolete.6
Bridges that are 20 feet (6.1 meters) in length or longer.
Arterials, including Interstates, are roads designed to provide for relatively long trips at
high speed and usually have multiple lanes and limited access. Collectors are typically twolane roads that provide for shorter trips at lower speeds and collect and distribute traffic
between arterials and local roads.
Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Highway Administration and Federal
Transit Administration, 2006 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
Conditions and Performance, Washington, 2007, chapter 2, at [http://www.fhwa.dot.
gov/policy/2006cpr/index.htm]. Figures for 2007 provided by the Bureau of Transportation
Overall, in 2007, about 26% of bridges were classified as structurally deficient,
functionally obsolete, or both. About 12% of bridges in that year, approximately
72,000, were classified as structurally deficient. This is much lower than the number
and share of bridges classified as structurally deficient in 1990 (see Figure 1).
Indeed, over that period, the number of structurally deficient bridges has been cut
almost in half.7
Figure 1. Structurally Deficient Bridges in the United States,
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration,
Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics (Washington, DC), table 1-27.
Bridges on the most heavily traveled roads, such as Interstates and other
arterials, are less likely to be classified as structurally deficient than bridges on more
lightly traveled routes. Despite the fact that traffic has grown markedly on Interstate
and other arterials over the past decade, structural deficiencies have declined. The
one exception to this trend is rural Interstate bridges. In 2004, FHWA classified
about 5% of Interstate bridges and 8% of bridges serving other arterials as
structurally deficient, compared with 12% serving collectors and 19% serving local
roads. Between 1994 and 2004, the share of structurally deficient Interstate bridges
declined from 6.0% to 5.1%, with the share of deficient Interstate bridges in rural
areas increasing slightly from 4.0% to 4.2% and the share in urban areas declining
from 8.3% to 6.0%. Over the same period, the share of structurally deficient other
arterial bridges in rural areas declined from 9.5% to 6.9% and the share of those in
Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration,
Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics 2007, Washington,
2007, table 1-27, at [http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/].
urban areas declined from 12.7% to 8.6%.8 For bridge deficiency and obsolescence
rates by state see the table in Appendix A.
Future Bridge Funding Needs
Every two years, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) assesses the
condition and performance of the nation’s highways, bridges, and transit systems;
documents current spending by all levels of government; and estimates future
spending needs to either maintain or improve current conditions and performance.9
As with any attempt to forecast future conditions, there are a host of simplifying
assumptions, omissions, and data problems that influence the results of the estimates
of future funding needs. Among other things, the estimates of future needs rely on
a forecast of travel demands and assumes that the most economically productive
projects (i.e., projects with the highest benefits relative to costs) will be implemented
first. Despite such uncertainties and assumptions, these estimates provide a way to
assess the level of current spending compared with what will be needed in the future
under different scenarios.
The most recent needs assessment shows that in 2004, $70.3 billion was spent
on capital improvements to the nation’s highways and bridges.10 Of that amount,
$58.3 billion was spent on roadways and $12.0 billion was spent on bridges. The
expenditures on bridges are composed of $10.5 billion on the rehabilitation of
existing bridges and $1.6 billion on the building of new bridges. Because of the
modeling involved, DOT’s future needs estimates for bridges are limited to fixing
deficiencies in existing bridges, thus are comparable with the $10.5 billion figure.
With that in mind, DOT estimates that it would cost a total of $65.3 billion to fix all
existing bridge deficiencies (in 2004 dollars), which is called the existing bridge
investment backlog.11 This figure includes dealing with bridges classified as
structurally deficient and functionally obsolete as well as other deficiencies, if the
benefits outweigh the costs.
Of course, fixing all deficient bridges overnight, whatever the cost, is not
possible. FHWA, therefore, estimates how this investment backlog will change at
various levels of spending over the next 20 years, 2005 through 2024, taking into
account the deterioration of existing bridges over that period. The results of this
analysis can be seen in Table 1. All dollar figures are adjusted for inflation and
expressed in 2004 dollars. To maintain the existing level of bridge deficiencies over
the next 20 years (i.e., to keep the backlog at the current level in total dollar terms)
would require $8.7 billion annually, less than the level of spending in 2004.
Investment at the maximum economically justified level would be $12.4 billion
annually, approximately 20% per year more than spending in 2004. At this level, the
backlog of deficiencies would be entirely eliminated. Spending between the level
DOT, Conditions and Performance, 2007, exhibit 3-18.
The “improve” scenario is the level of spending in which the investment is made in all
projects where the economic benefits are equal to or greater than the economic costs.
These spending figures do not include routine maintenance costs.
DOT, Conditions and Performance, 2007, 9-13.
needed to maintain current conditions, $8.7 billion per year, and the maximum
economically justifiable level, $12.4 billion per year, would improve the conditions
of the nation’s bridges but would not entirely eliminate the economic backlog. At the
level of spending in 2004, $10.5 billion per year, the total dollar cost of deficiencies
would be halved over the next 20 years. If spending is less than $8.7 billion per year,
the economic backlog will grow.12 Funding to build new bridges, $1.6 billion in
2004, would be in addition to these spending estimates.
DOT does not report in a comparative way on the federal share of all bridge
capital expenditures, but instead reports on the share of capital spending on roadways
and bridges as a whole. Of the $70.3 billion capital expenditures on roads and
bridges, the federal share was 43.8%, amounting to $30.8 billion. The federal share
of capital expenditures has hovered around 40% since the mid-1980s.13
Table 1. Projected Changes in 2024 Bridge Investment Backlog
Compared with 2004 Levels for
Different Possible Funding Levels
of 2004 Dollars)
2004 spending on
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit
Administration, 2006 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and
Performance (Washington, DC, 2007), exhibit 9-8.
Bridge Infrastructure: The Federal/State Role
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the main federal player in
regard to the maintenance and safety of highway bridges, as well as in the emergency
response to reestablish mobility and reconstruct bridges after a catastrophic failure.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), however, is the entity that usually
Ibid., 9-12, 9-13.
Ibid., exhibit 6-8.
investigates the causes of bridge failures, and when a navigable waterway is
involved, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers may be involved in
clearing and reopening the waterway.
A number of characteristics of the FHWA’s Federal-Aid Highway Program need
to be kept in mind during a discussion of the federal role in maintaining and
improving the nation’s highway bridge infrastructure. To begin with, although the
federal-aid highway program provides federal money to highways and highway
bridges, the money itself is normally under the control of the states. The state
departments of transportation (state DOTs), within the federal programmatic
framework, determine, for the most part, where and on what the money is spent (but
have to comply with detailed federal planning guidelines as part of the decision
making process). The state DOTs let the contracts, oversee the project development
and construction process, and provide for the inspection of bridges. Most of the
federal-aid highway program money provided to the state DOTs is apportioned to
them through several large “core” formula-driven programs, including the Interstate
Maintenance program (IM), the National Highway System (NHS), the Surface
Transportation Program (STP), the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality
Improvement program (CMAQ), and the Highway Bridge Program (HBP). These
programs were designed to meet certain policy goals. Over time, the state DOTs
have been given increasing flexibility to shift funds from one program to another to
help fulfill their state transportation plans. The HBP is the primary source of federal
funds for highway bridge replacement, reconstruction, and capital maintenance (not
for new bridge or bridge capacity expansion). States can, however, if they wish,
transfer or “flex” up to 50% of their HBP apportioned funds to certain non-bridge
programs. Theoretically, states can also transfer (or “flex”) funds from other federalaid highway programs to increase spending through the HBP. However, certain other
formula program funds can be spent on bridge reconstruction and replacement
without being flexed (i.e., some HBP-type projects are directly eligible under IM,
NHS, and STP).
Also, a number of smaller discretionary programs nominally under the control
of the FHWA were designed to provide funds to projects chosen through competition
with other projects. In recent years, with the exception of FY2007, however, most
of the discretionary program funding has been earmarked by Congress.14
The HBP includes $100 million annual set-aside of bridge project funds that are
designated in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act:
A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU; P.L. 109-59). The set-aside has been criticized
by supporters of the HBP both because all of the money was designated to projects
set forth in the text of the act and because a significant dollar amount of the set-aside
is for new bridge construction, which would not be normally eligible under the HBP.
Congress did not earmark most FHWA discretionary programs under the FY2007 yearlong continuing resolution (P.L. 110-5). Most of these funds were directed, however, by the
Department of Transportation (DOT) to support DOT’s Urban Partnership Agreements and
Corridors of the Future initiatives. The initiatives were developed by DOT with minimal
The Federal-aid Highway program is funded from the Highway Account of the
Highway Trust Fund (HTF). This Highway Account is experiencing financial
difficulties and may go into deficit prior to the FY2009 end date for SAFETEA-LU.
Consequently, an increase in federal spending for highway bridge repair would
require a decrease in other highway spending, an increase in revenues to the trust
fund (tax or fee increases), a draw-down of the HTF balances (and possibly an earlier
deficit condition for the trust fund), or appropriations from the Treasury’s general
The Highway Bridge Program (HBP)16
The main federal source of funding for highway bridges is the HBP, also
referred to as the Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation program (HBRR).
The HBP is the primary federal program to fund the replacement or rehabilitation of
structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges. The program’s base
authorization for FY2007 was $4.3 billion in contract authority. However, additional
apportionments to the program, described in Table 2, raised the program’s gross
apportionments to roughly $5 billion. As mentioned earlier, the plans for the
spending of these funds are under the control of the state DOTs. These funds are
usually not to be spent on new bridges, but are available for
the total replacement of a structurally deficient or functionally
obsolete highway bridge on any public road with a new facility
constructed in the same general traffic corridor;
rehabilitation to restore structural integrity of a bridge on any public
road or to correct major safety defects;
replacement of certain ferryboat operations and bridges destroyed
before 1965, low-water crossings, and bridges made obsolete by
certain Corps of Engineers (COE) projects and not rebuilt with COE
bridge painting, seismic retrofitting, anti-scour measures, and deicing applications; and
systematic preventive maintenance17 (SAFETEA-LU added this to
the U.S. Code to clarify the eligibility of such work).
P.L. 110-318, enacted September 15, 2008, provided a transfer of $8.017 billion from the
Treasury’s general fund to the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund to assure the
sufficiency of the Highway Account through FY2009. Declines in fuel tax revenues in the
summer of 2008 and a concomitant increase in outlays brought the Highway Account to the
brink of insolvency in September 2008.
23 U.S.C. 144. See also the FHWA website at [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/federalaid/
The use of HBP funds for preventative maintenance has been more broadly eligible than
has been commonly assumed, see [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/preservation/100804.cfm]
HBRR funds are apportioned to the states by formula based on each states’
relative share of the total cost to repair or replace deficient highway bridges. Each
state is guaranteed at least 1/4% of total program allocation, and no state may receive
an allocation greater than 10%. The federal share under HBP is 80%, except that for
Interstate bridges the federal share rises to 90%.
To be eligible for funding under the HBP, a bridge must be considered deficient
and have a so-called sufficiency rating (on a scale of 0-100) of 50 or less to be
eligible for replacement, and have a rating of 50 to 80 to be eligible for rehabilitation
(i.e., bridges with a sufficiency rating more than 80 are not eligible). Further, the
bridge must be at least 20 feet long and may not have been constructed or have
undergone major reconstruction within the last 10 years.18
The most recent authorization act, SAFETEA-LU, provided a base authorization
of $4.188 billion for FY2005, $4.254 billion for FY2006, $4.320 billion for FY2007,
$4.388 billion for FY2008, and $4.457 billion for FY2009, for HBP. The program
operates under a kind of budget authority, called contract authority, that permits the
federal obligation (i.e., federal obligation to reimburse the states) of funds in advance
of an appropriation. The actual apportionments to the HBP program were to be
augmented by the Equity Bonus Program, and in some years by the Revenue Aligned
Budget Authority (RABA) distributions. Over the life of the act, the program was
to receive roughly 11% of all the contract authority apportioned by formula. Over
the last 20 years, the percentage of actual annual HBP apportionments has varied
roughly within the range of 11% to 14% of total annual apportionments.19
Funding “Flexibility” and HBP Spending. As with other federal-aid
highway programs, the states have a great deal of control over how, where, and on
what the HBP funds, allocated to their state transportation programs, are spent. In
addition, the states have the option of not spending all of HBP on bridge projects.
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA; P.L. 102240) included a provision to allow up to 40% of a state’s bridge program
apportionment (the distribution of funds as prescribed by the bridge program
formula) to be transferred, or flexed, to the National Highway System (NHS) or the
Surface Transportation Program (STP); this authority continues to exist. The
Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA21; P.L. 105-178) increased the
allowable transfer percentage to 50%. The amount of contract authority that has been
transferred is significant. Since FY2000, 20 states and the District of Columbia have
transferred $2.8 billion from the bridge program to other federal-aid highway
programs (see Table 5 in Appendix B, for the transferred amounts broken out by
year and state).20
It is, however, obligations rather than contract authority that best indicates the
amount of “money” that will eventually be spent. Recent federal authorizing
legislation has not specified the distribution of obligational authority across the core
For more information see [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/bridgeload01.cfm]
Based on FHWA data.
Calculated by CRS from FHWA data.
federal programs. This, in effect, allows states to shift the obligations among the
various federal formula programs as long as the obligations in any of the individual
programs do not exceed their authorized contract authority for the fiscal year. Some
observers have argued that some states have regularly taken advantage of this device
to use bridge program obligations to fund non-bridge projects allowable under
programs such as the STP.21
Table 2 displays the bridge program base authorizations, apportionments (after
distribution of the Minimum Guarantee or Equity Bonus and any RABA), and
obligation of federal funds under HBP for FY2002 through FY2007.22
Table 2. Highway Bridge Program Apportionments
($ in millions)
Source: FHWA. FY2007 obligations are through August 10, 2007.
Recently released data set forth the ratio of HBP obligations to HBP
apportionments over the last five years, FY2003-FY2007, on a state-by-state basis.23
The average ratio for these years for the nation as a whole is 89%, which is in line
with the impact of the obligation limitation on the total apportioned to the program.
Some states obligated funds at higher rates. Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and
Utah, for example, each obligated an average of more than 130% over these five
years. It is the states with low obligation rates, however, that raise concerns among
HBP advocates, especially those who view HBP as being primarily a safety program.
Three states, Arizona (51%), Minnesota (51%), and Pennsylvania (58%), obligated
less than 60% of their HBP apportionments during FY2003-FY2007.24
See “Which States Place the Highest Priority On Bridge Spending?” Transportation
Weekly, September 5, 2007, 8. For an earlier discussion see The Federal Bridge Program
(Decoding Transportation Policy and Practice #8), Surface Transportation Policy Project,
2003, available at [http://www.transact.org/library/decoder/Bridge-Decoder.pdf].
Obligation figures in Table 2 were provided by the FHWA. Apportionments (gross) were
taken from FHWA’s computational tables, various years.
See page 8 of the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007,
Report to Accompany H.R. 3999, House of Representatives Report 110-750, available at
For the full state-by-state table see, Highway Bridge Program (“HBP”) Obligation Rates
Ratio of HBP Obligations to HBP Apportionments, available at [http://transportation.house.
States may also, if they wish, spend funds from other large “core” formula
program apportionments on their state’s bridges (see Appendix C). In addition,
there is nothing preventing a state from spending its own funds on bridge projects
beyond the minimum local matching share. Federal funding for highways, since its
inception, has been intended to be spending that is supplemental to state spending on
highways — not as a substitute for states’ spending.
As mentioned earlier, the HBP is restricted to the repair and replacement of
deficient bridges. However, significant amounts of federal funds are also obligated
for new or capacity-increasing bridge projects. If new bridges and capacity-increasing
reconstruction projects are added to obligations for bridge replacement,
rehabilitation, and minor bridge work, total annual obligation of federal funds for
bridge projects from all FHWA programs averaged roughly $5.4 billion, for FY2002FY2007.25 Spending on totally new bridges, however, does not generally reduce the
number of deficient bridges. The 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110161) provided an additional $1 billion for the HBP.
Under the National Bridge Inspection Program (NBIP), all bridges longer than
20 feet (6.1 meters) are required to be inspected and reported on by state inspectors,
based on federally defined requirements, and data from these inspections are reported
by the states to the Federal Highway Administration. Federal agencies are also
subject to the same requirements for federally owned bridges, such as those on
federal lands. This program sets up a mechanism to identify the nation’s deficient
or functionally obsolete bridges, for states to identify which bridges need replacement
and which need repair, and to form the statistical basis for developing the cost-torepair estimates that are used at the federal level in the HBP apportionment formula.26
The federal government sets the standards for bridge inspection through the
National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS; 23 CFR 650 subpart C). The NBIS sets
forth how, with what frequency, and by whom bridge inspection is to be completed.
Characteristics of the NBIS include the following:
States are responsible for the inspection of all public highway
bridges within the state (except for those owned by the federal
government or that are tribally owned). Although the state may
delegate some bridge inspection responsibilities to smaller units of
government within the state, the responsibility for having the
Federal Highway Administration, Bridge Obligations by Fiscal Year and Program,
reproduced in Appendix C at the end of this report.
The National Bridge Inspection Program was initiated in 1968 following the 1967 collapse
of the so-called Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. The National Bridge Inspection
Standards were first issued in 1971.
inspections done in conformance with federal requirements remains
with the state.
Inspections can be done by state employees or by certified inspectors
employed by consultants under contract to a state DOT.
Inspections of federally owned bridges are the responsibility of the
federal agency that owns the bridge.
The standards for the qualification and training of bridge inspection
In general, the required frequency of inspection is every 24 months.
States are to identify bridges that require less than a 24-month
frequency. States can also, however, request FHWA approval to
inspect certain bridges on an up to 48-month frequency. Frequency
of underwater inspection is generally 60 months but may be
increased to 72 months with the FHWA permission.
The most common on-site inspection is a visual inspection by
trained inspectors, one of whom must meet the requirements of a
Team Leader. Damage and special inspections do not require the
presence of a Team Leader.
Load rating of a bridge must be under the responsibility of a
registered professional engineer. Structures that cannot carry
maximum legal loads for the roadway must be posted.
The vast majority of inspections are done by state employees or consultants
working for the states. FHWA inspectors do, at times, conduct audit inspections to
assure that states are complying with the bridge inspection requirements. FHWA
also provides on-site engineering expertise in the examination of the reasons for a
catastrophic bridge failure. The time, however, that FHWA bridge engineers have
available for bridge oversight is limited.27
FHWA’s Emergency Relief Program
The Emergency Relief Program (ER) provides funding for bridges damaged in
natural disasters or that are subject to catastrophic failures.28 The program provides
funds for emergency repairs immediately after the failure to restore essential traffic,
as well as for longer-term permanent repairs.
Department of Transportation, Inspector General, Federal Highway Administration’s
Oversight of Structurally Deficient Bridges, Washington, 2007, 8. Available at
For a more detailed discussion of the ER program, see CRS Report RS22268, Repairing
and Reconstructing Disaster-Damaged Roads and Bridges: The Role of Federal-Aid
Highway Assistance, by Robert S. Kirk.
ER is authorized at $100 million per year, nationwide. Funding beyond this is
generally provided for in supplemental appropriations acts. ER also has a $100
million cap on the amount that can be spent in any one state, for any one disaster or
catastrophic failure. In the case of most large disasters, additional funds are provided
for in an appropriations bill (usually a supplemental appropriations bill) to meet the
needs for additional ER funding. Usually, the $100 million state cap is waived
legislatively in the same bill. In the past, this funding often came from the HTF, but
with the HTF facing financial problems, any supplemental funding, under ER, for the
Minneapolis Bridge would probably have to come from the Treasury’s general fund.
The federal share for emergency repairs to restore essential travel during the first
180 days following a disaster is 100%. Later repairs, as well as permanent repairs
such as reconstruction or replacement of a collapsed bridge, are reimbursed at the
same federal share that would normally apply to the federal-aid highway facility.
Recently, Congress has often legislatively raised the federal share under the ER
program to 100%.
The ER program is considered by most in the transportation community to have
a good track record in getting traffic alternatives (detours, transit, or ferryboat
service) in place and using innovative contracting to accelerate the rebuilding of
damaged federal-aid highway facilities. As is true with other FHWA programs, the
ER program is administered through the state DOTs in close coordination with
FHWA’s division offices (there is one in each state). Most observers see this as a
strength of the program, in that FHWA staff at the state level have established and
ongoing relationships with their state counterparts, which facilitates a quick,
coordinated response to disasters.
On August 8, President Bush signed legislation providing $250 million for
rebuilding the I-35W bridge.29 ER spending on the bridge is not, however, limited
to the $250 million because the ER program has an underlying “such sums as
necessary” authorization which allows for additional spending from the general fund
if there is appropriations action making the funding available. Secretary of
Transportation, Mary Peters, announced on August 10, 2007, that FHWA would
provide $50 million in immediate Emergency Relief funding (in addition to the $5
million released the morning of the collapse), for “clearing debris, setting up detours,
and making repairs.” In addition, DOT provided $5 million in Transit Bus and Bus
Facilities funding (from the mass transit account of the highway trust fund) for
increased transit operations to mitigate the loss of I-35W capacity. On November 5,
2007, $123.5 million additional ER funds were released for the I-35W bridge. This
distribution of ER funds exhausted available ER program funds. Since the state of
Minnesota had requested a total of $371.7 million for the I-35W bridge, this left
$193.2 million in outstanding needs for the bridge. The 2008 Consolidated
Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161), however, included an additional ER
P.L. 110-56 authorizes $250 million in ER funding for rebuilding the I-35W bridge. The
bill also eliminates the $100 million state limitation, authorizes ER funds for transit, and
lifts the federal share for reconstruction to 100%. Because the legislation specifically
authorizes spending for the I-35W bridge replacement, questions about the eligibility of the
bridge for ER funding are moot.
appropriation of $195 million, which should cover the current outstanding requests
for ER funds for the I-35W bridge replacement (See Table 3).
Table 3. ER Funding for the I-35W Bridge Collapse
Funding Requests and Allocations
Total Formal Request for ER Funds
“Quick Release” Allocation of August 2, 2007
“Quick Release” Allocation of August 9, 2007
Allocation of FY2008 ER funds on November 5, 2007
Allocation of (P.L. 110-161) appropriation on March 5, 2008
Total ER Funding for I-35W Bridge
Note: Simultaneously with the allocation of March 5, 2008, there was a withdrawal of $1,782,833 of
previously allocated ER funds drawn from the annual ER authorization (i.e., which were not
specifically appropriated for the I-35W bridge, as was the March 5 allocation, which was allocated
On October 8, 2007, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced
the award of a $243 million design-build contract for the replacement of the bridge.30
The difference between the $371.7 million total ER request and the $243 million
replacement contract appears to include demolition and debris removal and clean up,
traffic control following the collapse and possibly right-of-way acquisition,
preliminary engineering and other activities that normally precede replacement bridge
construction. The I-35W replacement bridge opened on September 18, 2008. This
was over two months ahead of the originally planned grand opening of December 24,
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigation of
the Bridge Collapse31
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has the general authority
under 49 U.S.C. § 1131 to investigate selected highway accidents in cooperation with
state authorities. The provision stipulates that NTSB investigations carried out under
this authority shall have priority over any investigation by any other component of
the federal government. However, the NTSB must provide for appropriate
The contract has been controversial because it went to the highest bidder based
significantly on “technical merit.” See “Minneapolis Bridge Rebuild Draws Fire,” ENR,
October 1, 2007, 10-11. Some observers in the transportation community have suggested
that a lower bid and less elaborate design might have won if Minnesota DOT had not had
access to 100% federal funding for virtually all the costs related to the bridge collapse and
This section regarding the NTSB was written by Bart Elias, Specialist in Aviation Policy.
participation by other departments, agencies, or instrumentalities in the investigation.
If, however, the Attorney General, in consultation with the NTSB chairman, were to
determine that circumstances of an accident reasonably indicate that the event was
caused by a criminal act, then the Federal Bureau of Investigation would assume
The statute allows the NTSB to select highway accidents to investigate. The
NTSB selects those highway accidents it chooses to investigate based on a variety of
factors and considerations, such as the severity of the incident, the suspected role of
key transportation safety concerns or issues, media and public interest in the event,
and stated or perceived congressional concern or interest in the event and its possible
implications for public safety. The NTSB has deployed a seven-person team to the
site of the August 1, 2007, interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, MN.
The NTSB uses a “party” process in conducting its investigations, allowing
entities that can contribute technical expertise and specific knowledge regarding the
circumstances of an accident to participate in the fact-finding phase of an
investigation. Parties to an investigation of a highway infrastructure failure or
collapse may include, for example, structural engineers and other technical experts
from state transportation departments and construction engineers or other technical
specialists from private firms contracted to build or maintain the infrastructure
involved in the event. As previously noted, the NTSB must accommodate
participation from other federal entities, including components of the Department of
Transportation (DOT), and does so by granting these federal entities status as a party
to the investigation. While the various entities or parties, including federal, state,
local, and private industry participants, are directly involved in the fact-gathering
portion of the investigation, the NTSB retains sole responsibility for the analysis,
investigative findings, and determination of probable cause.
Other major NTSB investigations of highway infrastructure damage, collapses,
and failures since 1987 include the following:
Ceiling Collapse in the Interstate 90 Connector Tunnel, Boston,
Massachusetts, July 10, 2006 (NTSB Report HWY-06-MH-024).
Highway Accident Brief — Passenger Vehicle Collision with a
Fallen Overhead Girder Eastbound on Interstate 70 at the Colorado
State Route 470 Overpass, Golden, Colorado, May 15, 2004 (NTSB
Highway-Marine Accident Report — U.S. Towboat Robert Y. Love
Allision with the I-40 Highway Bridge near Webbers Falls,
Oklahoma, May 26, 2002 (NSTB Report HAR-04-05).
U.S. Towboat Chris Collision with the Judge William Seeber
Bridge, New Orleans, Louisiana, May 28, 1993 (NTSB Report
Tractor-Semitrailer Collision with Bridge Columns on Interstate 65,
Evergreen, Alabama, May 19, 1993 (NTSB Report HAR-94-02).
Collapse of the Harrison Road Bridge Spans, Miamitown, Ohio,
May 26, 1989 (NTSB Report HAR-90-03).
Collapse of the Northbound U.S. Route 51 Bridge Spans over the
Hatchie River near Covington, Tennessee April 1, 1989 (NTSB
Collapse of the S.R. 675 Bridge Spans over the Pocomoke River
near Pocomoke City, Maryland August 17, 1988 (NTSB Report
Collapse of New York Thruway (I-90) Bridge over the Schoharie
Creek, Near Amsterdam, New York, April 5, 1987 (NTSB Report
The NTSB’s Interim Safety Recommendation.32 On January 15, 2008,
the NTSB issued a safety recommendation that the FHWA require bridge owners
(mostly the states) of all steel truss bridges of similar design to the I-35W bridge,
within the National Bridge Inventory, “conduct load capacity calculations to verify
that the stress levels on all structural elements, including gusset plates, remain within
applicable design requirements, whenever planned modifications or operational
changes may significantly increase stresses.” The safety recommendation noted that
the FHWA estimated that recommendation would apply to 465 bridges within the
National Bridge Inventory.
During wreckage recovery, investigators found that gusset plates at eight
locations were fractured. Subsequent review of the original I-35W bridge design
indicated that the original design process of the bridge led to a “serious error in sizing
some of the gusset plates in the main truss.” Gusset plates are riveted or welded steel
plates that connect the beams in steel truss bridges. Bridge gussets are normally
expected to be stronger than the beams they connect. According to the NTSB, the
design error that led to the use of undersized gusset plates in the I-35W bridge made
these gusset plates the weakest, rather than the strongest, members of the bridge.
Regarding the bridge inspection process, the NTSB recommendation notes that
bridge inspections under the National Bridge Inspection Standards would not have
identified the gusset design error. The standards do not address errors in original
design but are directed toward detecting problems, such as corrosion or cracking, that
may degrade the strength of the structure, once it has been built.
The I-35W bridge opened in 1967 and had undergone two major renovations,
in 1977 and in 1988. The renovations added considerable weight to the bridge. In
addition, on the day of the collapse, the bridge was being re-paved and an estimated
300 tons of construction equipment and materials were on the bridge.
National Transportation Safety Board, Safety Recommendation, January 15, 2008,
Washington, NTSB, 5. Available at [http://www.ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/2008/H08_1.pdf] and
Although the investigation revealed a design flaw that appears to have
contributed to the failure, what caused the bridge to fail on August 1, 2007, is yet to
be determined. The investigation is ongoing and the NTSB is expected to issue a
determination of probable cause of the bridge collapse by the end of 2008.
Issues for Congress
Some see the I-35W bridge collapse as an example not only of the problem of
structurally deficient bridges but for a purported infrastructure crisis in general.
Ironically, as is indicated by the Conditions and Performance Report, the typical and
aggregate condition of bridges has actually improved since 1990. However, the
condition of roads has not experienced the same degree of improvement.33 Despite
the NTSB’s interim finding that a design flaw in the I-35W bridge’s original design
likely contributed to the bridge collapse, the issues that emerged following the
incident continue to attract public scrutiny within the context of discussion of the
upcoming reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs.
Condition of the Nation’s Bridges
The number of deficient bridges in the United States has fallen to less than half
the number identified in 1990. Some would argue that this casts doubt on the need
for a major policy response to eliminate or more rapidly reduce the roughly 72,000
remaining deficient bridges. Even that lower number of deficient bridges leaves
Americans exposed to what some might consider an unacceptable level of risk. The
policy question is how quickly can or should the remaining deficient bridges be
replaced or repaired. Some would argue that Congress should consider the spending
levels (described in Table 1) that would more quickly reduce or even eliminate the
nation’s deficient bridges by 2024.
A related issue is one of terminology. The terms structurally deficient and
functionally obsolete are not synonymous with unsafe. The goal of eliminating all
structurally deficient bridges quickly could lead to inefficient spending if a significant
percentage of these bridges do not actually have significant safety issues. Congress
might, therefore, consider challenging FHWA to come up with a rating system and
terminology more directly tied to risk.34
For a more broadly defined discussion of trends on infrastructure, see Congressional
Budget Office, Trends in Public Spending on Transportation and Water Infrastructure, 1956
to 2004, by Nathan Musick, Washington, 2007.
The DOT Inspector General has recommended that FHWA develop a “data-driven, riskbased approach to bridge oversight to better identify and target those structurally deficient
bridges most in need of attention.” H.R. 3999, summarized at the end of this report,
includes bridge inventory provisions that would require a risk-based prioritization for the
reconstruction of deficient bridges.
Providing More Money for Bridges
Given that the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) may go into deficit in FY2009,
Congress may consider a number of financing options if it decides to increase
spending on bridges.
Provide a special treasury general fund transfer to the HTF dedicated
to acceleration of the repair of the remaining structurally deficient
Provide increased highway trust fund contract authority for the HBP.
This could accelerate the approaching trust fund deficit, but it could
provide increased funding in the near term. The FY2008
Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161) provides an
additional $1 billion for the HBP from the HTF.
The fuel taxes that provide the vast majority of revenues to the HTF
were last raised in 1993. Some have proposed raising the fuel taxes
to support the HTF generally, others have suggested an increase just
for the bridge program.
Some observers have suggested redirecting earmarked funds to the
Some have mentioned using public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a
mechanism to help reduce the number of structurally deficient
bridges. Many are skeptical of the use of PPPs because they require
a funding stream, such as tolls, and could lead to the conversion of
free bridges to toll facilities. One variant of the PPP alternative is
the long-term leasing of toll facilities to private investors in return
for a large up-front payment to the state. The state could, if it
wished, use this lease-derived money to supplement its normal state
and federal spending on bridge replacement and repair (or for other
purposes). The state of Indiana has been using such funding for its
10-year infrastructure improvement program. This arrangement has
been criticized on a number of grounds, including that toll payers
continue to pay long after the up-front money is spent. Also some
critics argue that it could create an incentive for states that are
dealing with a constrained budgetary outlook to substitute the lease
revenues for their state transportation tax revenues and redirect some
of these revenues to pay for non-transportation needs. Another PPP
variant that has attracted attention is the Missouri plan, which is
discussed later in this report.
Require the states to pay more of the costs. A GAO study found that
since the mid-1990s, states had not maintained their level of effort
in highway spending.35
The Equity Bonus distribution could be rewritten to favor the bridge
program. One way to do this is to shift the HBP out of the scope of
the Equity Bonus program. This would make the program’s funds
“new” money for the states. This could, however, also require a
change in the rate-of-return guarantee mechanism for the entire EB
program. Such a change would reduce the percentage of highway
spending subject to the equity adjustment and would likely be
opposed by donor states.
GAO Report on the Highway Bridge Program
On September 10, 2008, the GAO released a report examining how the HBP is
carried out at the federal, state, and local level and made suggestions for executive
action.36 GAO found that
“the program lacks focus, performance measures, and sustainability. For
example, the programs statutory goals are not focused on a clearly identified
federal or national interest, but rather have expanded from improving deficient
bridges to supporting seismic retrofitting, preventive maintenance, and many
other projects, thus expanding the federal interest to potentially include almost
any bridge in the country. In addition, the program lacks measures linking
funding to performance and is not sustainable, given the anticipated deterioration
of the nation’s bridges and the declining purchasing power of funding currently
available for bridge maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement. Once the
federal interest in bridges is clearly defined, policymakers can clarify the goals
for federal involvement and align the program to achieve those goals. HBP
sustainability may also be improved by identifying and developing permormance
measures and re-examining funding mechanisms.”
Missouri’s Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Project
The Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) “Safe and Sound
Bridge Improvement Project,” hereafter referred to as the Missouri plan, has attracted
attention as an alternative model for financing the expedited repair of deficient
bridges.37 The Missouri plan is designed to provide for the rehabilitation or
replacement of 802 of Missouri’s 4,433 deficient bridges before December 31, 2012.
The majority of the bridges are small- or medium-sized deficient rural bridges on the
Government Accountability Office, Federal-Aid Highways: Trends, Effect on State
Spending, and Options for Future Program Design (August 2004), available at
Government Accountability Office, Highway Bridge Program: Clearer Goals and
Performance Measures Needed for a More Focused and Sustainable Program, (September
2008), available at [http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081043.pdf]
See the project website at [http://www.modot.mo.gov/safeandsound/index.htm].
Missouri state highway system. A single team of contractors is to bring the bridges
up to good condition and then maintain them in good condition for 25 years.
The financing of the Missouri plan is seen by many in the transportation
community as especially innovative. Under this financing model the state of
Missouri makes no payments for the initial construction (which could be completed
as early as December 31, 2011). After construction, the state makes equal annual
payments for a minimum of 25 years. The money for these payments is to come from
anticipated federal-aid highway program funds and state funds. To finance the repair
and replacement stage of the plan, the U.S. DOT has approved an allocation of up to
$600 million of private activity bonds (PABs) with the Missouri Development
Finance Board serving as the conduit issuer for the bonds. These PABs, provided for
under the auspices of a provision in SAFETEA-LU, are allowed to retain their tax
exempt status despite a greater level of private involvement than is normally allowed
under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. This provides the contractors with access to
tax-exempt interest rates and will lower their finance costs, according to MoDOT, by
about $70 million. The contractors pay off the bonds from the proceeds of their
annual payments from MoDOT.
While the Missouri plan, as a model for other public private partnerships, has
attractive attributes, it may also have some long-term characteristics that states may
want to consider prior to adopting a similar strategy. Perhaps the most attractive
attribute is that the Missouri plan quickly eliminates a large number of deficient
bridges in the state without starving the other highway projects of funding during the
three- to four-year construction stage of the plan. The plan also, through the use of
bonds that are exempt from federal taxes, shifts a portion of the financing cost from
the private participants to the federal Treasury. The plan is designed to maintain the
bridges in good condition, perhaps freeing state maintenance resources for use on
other bridges and highways over the 25-year life of the contract. The main drawbacks
tend to be voiced by those who view the plan from a long-term or federal budget
perspective. In the long-run, the use of tax-exempt bonds can be costly in terms of
lost federal revenue. CBO and others have, in the past, raised concerns about the
long-term costs to the U.S. Treasury of dependence on tax-exempt financing in
comparison to appropriated spending.38 In addition, committing a significant portion
of a state’s federal and state highway resources to a 25-year pay out period could
become problematic. Also, because a state using this mechanism would have to
make annual payments without fail, an unexpected decline in federal or state highway
budgets could cause the cancellation or delay of the funding of other projects in the
state’s transportation plan. As of this writing, the project is on hold. MoDOT and
the selected contracting team have not reached a final agreement on the project.
Flexibility and Transferability Issues
In the aftermath of the collapse of the I-35W bridge, both discussions in the
press and at congressional hearings have increased congressional interest in the
Congressional Budget Office, A Comparison of Tax-Credit Bonds, Other Special-Purpose
Bonds, and Appropriations in Financing Federal Transportation Programs, Washington,
CBO, 2003, 1-7.
transferability of HBP funds under the so-called “flexibility” mechanisms under Title
23 of the U.S. Code, which allow the movement of funds among the various federal
highway programs. As mentioned earlier, since FY2000, 20 states and the District
of Columbia have transferred roughly $2.8 billion from HBP to other FHWA
programs (See Appendix B for transfers of bridge program funding by state for
FY2000 to FY2007). For context, it is important to understand that all (excepting
certain set-asides) of the “core” federal-aid highway program funds may be flexed up
to the 50% of their base apportionment (i.e., not just HBP funds). Even higher
percentages of Interstate Maintenance and NHS funds may be transferred to STP with
DOT approval. Because STP has the broadest eligibility criteria, it is believed to be
the favored destination of much of the transferred contract authority under the
There is also concern that some states have exhibited a preference for programs
other than the HBP in their distribution of obligational authority. Some believe that
certain states have learned to game the system and commit federal funds to projects
that are primarily state and local priorities to the disadvantage of federal priorities
such as the HBP.40
A number of options have been proposed:
Tighten the flexibility rules on the spending of HBP funds to require
that all apportioned funds be spent on bridges and not flexed to other
uses until a state repairs or replaces all of its deficient bridges.
Return to a policy of specifying the distribution of the obligation
limitation under each of the “core” federal-aid highway programs,
thus assuring that states do not rely on HBP funds to support other
federal-aid highway programs’ projects.
In future authorization acts, shift the HBP out of Title I, the
construction title, to the safety title of the act, Title II, thereby
preventing the shifting of spending to the other construction
programs and making it clear that the congressional intent for the
HBP is safety.
Some STP funds are available for transfer to Federal Transit
Administration (FTA) programs. Some observers suggest that this
allows states to transfer HBP contract authority to STP as a means
of ultimately freeing up STP funds for mass transit. Transfers of STP
For a concise description of transferability between apportioned highway programs see
“Appendix I” in Financing Federal-Aid Highways, Federal Highway Administration,
Washington, FHWA, 2007, 57.
See “Which States Place the Highest Priority On Bridge Spending?” Transportation
Weekly, September 5, 2007, 8. For an earlier discussion see The Federal Bridge Program
(Decoding Transportation Policy and Practice #8), Surface Transportation Policy Project,
2003, available at [http://www.transact.org/library/decoder/Bridge-Decoder.pdf].
funds to FTA programs could be disallowed if HBP contract
authority is transferred to STP.
Some observers would make the case that the issue of the transfer of
bridge program contract authority has been overblown and, with the
exception of a few states, has only been done intermittently to
synchronize the funding for bridge reconstruction and replacement
with project timing or to avoid having the contract authority lapse.
H.R. 3999, the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act,
summarized later in this report, includes a provision regarding flexible funding. The
provision, as passed by the House of Representatives, appears to allow a state to
transfer any of its HBP apportionments to other federal-aid highway programs only
if the state demonstrates to the satisfaction of the Secretary of DOT, that the state has
no structurally deficient bridges on the state’s National Highway System roads that
are eligible for replacement. This is a major narrowing of the scope of the original
provision, which, as introduced, would have included all structurally deficient
bridges on the entire federal-aid highway system.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
(AASHTO) released a letter the day after the bill was ordered reported by the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, that argued that states have
wisely used the flexibility provided by the Congress under the federal Highway
Bridge Program, and have invested double the amount of federal funds in the
preservation and renovation of the nation’s bridges. Because federal statistics
fail to track this investment, AASHTO has conducted a survey to verify this fact.
Reports alleging a diversion of federal bridge funding are misleading because
they fail to look at the total picture of all the resources states commit to bridge
improvements. In 2004, the federal Highway Bridge Program (HBP) provided
some $5.1 billion to the states. That year, states actually spent $6.6 billion in
federal-aid for bridge rehabilitation. On top of that, state and local funding
added another $3.9 billion for bridge repairs. So even after accounting for the
transfers between the FHP to other categories, a total of $10.5 billion was
invested in bridge repair and rehabilitation that year. Transfers between federal
programs are simply a project management tool, and data on such transfers do
not reflect actual levels of state bridge spending.41
Supporters of limiting the flexing of HBP funds have asserted a number of
Given the additional federal bridge spending proposed under H.R.
3999, if the transfer of HBP funding by the states to other federal
transportation programs is not restricted, it would create a perverse
incentive for states to substitute the additional funding provided in
the bill for existing SAFETEA-LU bridge program contract
AASHTO Journal, November 9, 2007, 22-23.
authority, which could then be transferred to STP or other core
federal programs for other uses.
Because 50% (and for NHS and IM, up to 100% to STP with DOT
permission) of all the other core federal-aid highway programs may
be flexed, the states do not really need the HBP contract authority
for overall funding management, as the states assert.
If the states are still spending more than the apportioned HBR levels
on bridges, as is argued by flexibility supporters, then it is doubtful
that states really need HBP transferability.
In a broader sense, some also argue that the overall transferability
issue is connected to the states’ lagging “maintenance of effort,” in
regard to spending on highways. Historically, federal funding was
provided to supplement state spending on highways, not to substitute
for it. A GAO study found that since mid-1998 states, as a whole,
have failed to maintain a financial level of effort proportional to
federal spending increases.43 Some critics of flexibility would argue
that it is not coincidental that the weakened maintenance of effort by
the states occurred after flexibility was expanded (including the
ability to move obligations among programs) under the two major
surface transportation authorization bills passed during the 1990s.44
To mitigate the possible impact of the loss of HBP transferability on state
project and state transportation planning, all HBP funds could be made available until
expended, thereby eliminating the state’s concern that left over HBP contract
authority might lapse if not transferred (the $1 billion in additional HBP funding
proposed in H.R. 3999 is available until expended, but the funding authorized under
SAFETEA-LU is available for four years only).
The HBP Apportionment Formula: a Disincentive to the
Elimination of Deficient Bridges?
The formula for apportionment of HBP funds to the states is the calculated
relative share of total cost to repair or replace deficient highway bridges, based on
deficient bridge deck area, for each state. This formula means that states that replace
or reconstruct deficient bridges could become eligible for less HBP funding. Some
fear this could create a disincentive to reduce the number of deficient bridges in a
state.45 One option would be to reward states that reduce their inventory of deficient
bridges with funding for bridge maintenance that would make up for any loss of
HBP funding. However, because of the distribution of Equity Bonus funds, relatively
GAO, Federal-Aid Highways: Trends.
U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Structurally
Deficient Bridges, Hearing, September 5, 2007. Flexibility and maintenance of effort were
discussed during questioning.
See GAO, Highway Bridge Program, p. 20, 36.
few states could experience a decline in total federal-aid highway funding because
they have fewer deficient bridges.
Spending of HBP Funding on Off-Federal-Aid System Bridges
Since 1978, a minimum of each state’s apportionment was to be spent on
bridges that were off the federal-aid highway system (i.e., bridges on local roads and
rural minor collectors). Until the enactment of SAFETEA-LU in 2005, there was
also a maximum, 35%, that could be spent off system. SAFETEA-LU eliminated the
35% ceiling, opening up the entire state allocation under the HBP to spending on
non-system bridges. Some have argued that the ceiling should be reestablished. If
a new source of funding for bridge replacement on the major arterials (such as the
Interstate System and the National Highway System) be established, the absence of
a ceiling on HBP off-system bridge spending could create an incentive to use the new
funding program for the major roads and increase the amount of HBP spending on
Maintenance vs. Replacement and Reconstruction
Historically, one of the questions that has arisen from time to time is whether
some federal-aid highway programs, and the HBP in particular, have too strong an
orientation toward facility replacement or reconstruction, and have too little a focus
on preventive maintenance. Within the context of the HBP, the question is whether
the program structure and sufficiency ratings encourage states to substitute bridge
replacement for maintenance-type projects. During FY2002-FY2005, of the total
obligation of federal funds from all FHWA sources, on average, 8% was obligated
for new bridges, 60.5% was obligated for bridge replacement, 5% was for major
rehabilitation, and 26.5% was for minor bridge work. Although these figures indicate
that the lion’s share of bridge funding has been obligated for new and replacement
bridges, these percentages are less than they were in the late 1990s. The percentage
for minor bridge work has increased significantly recently. During the FY1997 to
FY2001 period, minor bridge work averaged only 9%.46 Still, the case can be made
that as the number of deficient bridges decreases, rather than reducing the bridge
program size it might make sense to shift the focus on the spending over time toward
As was mentioned earlier, eligibility of HBP funding for preventive
maintenance is broader than is often presumed at the state level. In addition,
SAFETEA-LU clarified that systematic preventive maintenance is an eligible HBP
cost. Whether to spend a state’s HBP funds on preventive maintenance versus
reconstruction or replacement projects, however, is up to the states.
Oversight and Inspection Issues
Risk-Based Approach to Federal Bridge Oversight. As was mentioned
earlier in this report, the terms deficient and obsolete are not synonymous with
Federal Highway Administration, “Obligation of Federal Funds for Bridge Projects
Underway by Improvement Type,” Highway Statistics, Washington, FHWA, various years.
unsafe. This can lead to a less than optimally focused response by policy makers.
The DOT Inspector General has proposed that the FHWA develop a “data-driven,
risk-based approach to bridge oversight to better identify and target those structurally
deficient bridges most in need of attention.”47 FHWA has already initiated efforts to
improve oversight of deficient bridges, but the IG asserts that more action is needed.
Although much of the IG’s proposal is aimed at focusing FHWA’s bridge oversight
activities, the risk-based approach could also assist policy makers by providing
statistics that more clearly identify the unsafe bridges than existing bridge statistics.
Oversight of State Transportation Implementation Plans (STIPs).
Congress could require more FHWA review of the composition and priorities
inherent in the state transportation implementation plans (STIPs) that direct program
funding and require that states meet certain bridge deficiency benchmarks before
states could flex any of their core formula funds to any program other than the HBP.
Oversight of Bridge Design. The NTSB, which found a flaw in the original
bridge design, noted that for the most part, “State departments of transportation rely
on bridge designers to perform accurate calculations and to check their work. Thus,
beyond the designer’s internal review, there does not appear to be a process in place
to identify original design errors in bridges.”48 Congress may wish to consider
requiring an outside review of the design of bridges of a certain type or size that are
built with federal aid.
Inspection Auditing. FHWA could be directed to take a more active role in
ensuring that inspections done by the states or their contractors are done in
conformance with the National Bridge Inspection Standards, including on-site audits
of state inspections. However, to have an impact, FHWA would have to be provided
with sufficient funding to hire additional engineers and support personnel at FHWA
Division offices and dedicate these resources to oversight of the inspection program.
The DOT Inspector General found that time constraints
restricted bridge engineers’ reviews to only a small percentage of the total
number of bridges in the state. For example, one FHWA engineer in a large state
informed us that he spent only about 15 percent of his time on oversight of the
bridge inspection program. The majority of his time was spent providing
technical assistance, construction inspection, and in committee meetings, among
Inspector Training and Personnel Qualifications. Current federal
regulations do not set a training requirement for front line inspectors.50 The National
Highway Institute and some state-based organizations offer FHWA approved training
DOT, IG, FHWA’s Oversight of Structurally Deficient Bridges, 7.
NTSB, Safety Recommendation, January 15, 2008, 3.
DOT, IG, Federal Highway Administration’s Oversight of Structurally Deficient Bridges,
Underwater bridge inspectors and individuals responsible for determining load ratings,
however, must meet certain minimum training requirements. See [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/
and certification programs. Some believe training of front line inspectors should be
both comprehensive and mandatory.51 Some states certify highway maintenance and
other highway department staff to perform inspection duties. Others argue that this
kind of multitasking makes inspection staff subject to frequent use for non-inspection
duties. Also, since on-the-job inspection experience is critical to the development
of inspection expertise, multitasking can delay the process of building the inspector’s
knowledge level. However, some defend multitasking, arguing that the practice
enhances productivity and allows state DOTs to train more inspectors than they need
on average so that they have the extra inspection personnel to rapidly expand bridge
inspections in response to unforseen events such as the collapse of the I-35W bridge.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) believes that most inspection
activities should be performed by licensed professional engineers with non-licensed
inspectors and technicians being used only for routine inspection procedures and
records.52 Their recommendation could require states and inspection consulting firms
to hire a significant number of civil engineers.
H.R. 3999 includes a more limited provision than discussed above that would
require that an individual, serving as an inspection team leader for the inspection of
complex bridges or follow-up inspections of bridges for which there has been a
critical finding, be a licensed professional engineer. Team leaders for all other
bridges must either be a professional engineer, licensed under the laws of the state
or have at least 10 years of bridge inspection experience. The provision would apply
only to personnel selected as team leaders after the date of issuance of the regulations
implementing this provision.
Emergency Relief Issues
For some disasters, Congress has legislatively raised the federal share for ER
projects to 100%. This has also happened in regard to the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis
which, as mentioned earlier, was made eligible for 100% federal funding in P.L. 11056. The Government Accountability Office has called for a reexamination of this
increasingly common occurrence.53 When federal ER funding is provided to cover
all of a failed bridge’s replacement costs, there is less of an incentive for a state DOT
to restrain project costs. Others argue that because the maintenance and inspection
of the bridge was the responsibility of the state, the state should shoulder some of the
cost of a failed bridge’s replacement.
H.R. 3999 would amend 23 U.S.C. Section 151(c) to require DOT to expand the scope of
the training program to ensure that all persons conducting highway bridge inspections
receive appropriate training and certification under the program.
American Society of Civil Engineers, Testimony before the House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure on Structurally Deficient Bridges in the United States,
Hearing, September 5, 2007, 4.
Government Accountability Office, Highway Emergency Relief: Reexamination Needed
to Address Fiscal Imbalance and Long-Term Sustainability, GAO-07-245, at
Caveats on Spending Statistics
Statistics on bridge spending in the United States are compiled and set forth in
different ways and with differing content. Most observers consider obligations to be
the most meaningful indicator of the amount of federal monies being committed each
year through the program. Federal obligations for bridge projects occur when the
FHWA approves individual project grant agreements. These obligations are tracked
in FHWA’s Federal Management Information System (FMIS) which generated the
totals set forth in Table 6 in Appendix C. FMIS cannot, however, distinguish
between spending on deficient and non-deficient bridges.54 The available statistics
on transfers of HBP resources are contract authority statistics. Programmatic analysis
using obligational authority as opposed to contract authority can lead to very different
representations of spending trends.
Because of the reimbursable nature of the federal-aid highway programs, the
states pay project costs and then submit vouchers for the work done and the Treasury
reimburses the states through electronic funds transfers to the states’ bank accounts.
Once the outlays are made to the states, the money is fungible. Also, there is no
direct connection between the outlay and the projects other than the previously
submitted vouchers. As mentioned earlier, bridge spending includes significant
amounts of state monies which are used both to fund the state matching share for
federally-funded projects and also state spending in addition to their required share
or for 100% state-funded bridge projects. Different states have somewhat different
statistical systems and may classify the type of work done and paid for in different
ways. In addition, complicating classification, many bridge projects have
components that alone would be considered a road project and some road projects
include bridge components. Transfers of contract authority or obligational authority
can also complicate the tracking of spending. This adds difficulty to the development
of useful statistics in regard to spending trends and leads to a variety of aggregate
estimates of total spending on bridges in general and deficient bridges in particular
and can complicate policy decision making.55 In its recent report on the HBP, GAO
“It is difficult to determine the impact of HBP due to lack of comprehensive
information on state and local spending, expansion of bridge project eligibility,
and limitations in NBI data.”56
DOT, IG. Federal Highway Administration’s Oversight of Structurally Deficient Bridges,
AASHTO Journal. November 9, 2007, attachment. In a letter to the Chairs and ranking
members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee, AASHTO President, Pete Rahn, in discussing
the transfer of HBP funds, complained that the FHWA tracks transfers out of the HBP but
fails to track overall state use of federal funds for preservation and renovation of the nation’s
bridges. AASHTO conducted a survey of its members to support its contention that states
spend more federal-aid funds for bridge rehabilitation than the total allocated to the states
under the HBP.
GAO, Highway Bridge Program, p. 26-32.
Before leaving for its 2007 Summer District Work Period, Congress enacted
legislation to provide the aforementioned funding authorization for the reconstruction
of the I-35W bridge. When Congress returned in September, it began consideration
of congressional bridge policy. The House Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure (T&I) and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, for
example, began holding hearings on the state of the nation’s bridges.57
When the T&I Committee held its hearings, it considered a legislative proposal
put forward by Committee Chairman Oberstar that would have created a special
multi-element initiative to repair structurally deficient bridges on the national
highway system (NHS), of which the interstate highways are a part.58 Chairman
Oberstar’s proposal would have created a separate trust fund for this effort funded by
an increase in the federal motor fuels tax (5 cents per gallon) and/or a tax on each
barrel ($1 barrel) of imported oil refined into motor fuels. These taxes, which could
have raised approximately $25 billion over three years, were viewed as temporary,
as was the initiative. The new program would have focused only on National
Highway System bridges (including Interstate Bridges), and earmarking of the
program’s funds would not have been allowed. The proposal, which would have
distributed funding to the states on a needs basis, was withdrawn in favor of H.R.
3999, which is discussed below.
President Bush reacted to the proposal by stating that he opposed any increase
in the fuels tax at this time and suggested instead that Congress revisit the funding
priorities in existing transportation legislation, especially as regards to earmarking.59
The Ranking Member of the T&I Committee, Representative Mica, also suggested
that Congress needed to revisit its transportation spending priorities, stating that the
existing program lacked “a true comprehensive transportation strategy.”60 In her
written testimony before the T&I Committee, Secretary of Transportation, Mary
Peters, set forth the Bush Administration view, arguing that
[i]ncreases in Federal taxes and spending would likely do little, if anything, ...
because tax revenues are deposited into a centralized Federal trust fund and reallocated on the basis of political compromise, major decisions on how to
prioritize investments — and thus, spend money — are made without
consideration of underlying economic or safety merits.
U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Structurally
Deficient Bridges, Hearing, September 5, 2007. Senate, Environment and Public Works
Committee, Oversight Hearing on the Condition of our Nation’s Bridges, Hearing,
September 20, 2007.
Rutenberg, Jim, “Bush Opposes Raising Gas Tax for Bridge Repairs,” The New York
Times, August 9, 2007.
The Secretary argued that congressional earmarking by Congress and the growth
of the number of “special interest programs,” as well as the limited use of benefit cost
analysis and performance measures, constrains the effectiveness of federal spending
Several other Members of Congress have also expressed an interest in seeing
federal spending for bridge infrastructure increased. Among them is Senator Clinton,
who has suggested establishment of an emergency $10 billion repair fund, and, as
discussed earlier, and Senator Murray, who added $1 billion by amendment to what
eventually became the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161), for
bridge repair and replacement.61
The T&I initiative faced significant opposition, primarily because of the
proposed fuel taxes. On October 30, 2007, Chairman Oberstar introduced a
substantially modified verison of the initiative in the National Highway Bridge
Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2007 (H.R. 3999).
National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act
of 2007 (H.R. 3999)
On October 31, 2007 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
approved and ordered reported H.R. 3999, a bill to make changes in the HBP, the
National Bridge Inspection Program, and to provide additional funding for the repair
and replacement of deficient bridges on the National Highway System. The bill was
reported on July 10, 2008 (H.Rept. 110-750). The forerunner of H.R. 3999 was the
proposal put forth by the T&I Committee in the days immediately following the I-35
bridge collapse. H.R. 3999 does not propose, as did the earlier T&I initiative, a
federal fuels tax increase to support increased bridge spending.
The following discussion reflects H.R. 3999 as passed by the House of
Representatives and as ordered reported without amendment favorably by the Senate
Committee on Environment and Public Works on September 17, 2008 .
Bridge Inventory Provisions. H.R. 3999 would make a number of changes
to Title 23, Section 144, regarding the National Bridge Inventory (NBI). It is
important to keep in mind that bridge inspection and the NBI are linked in that much
of the information for the bridge inventory (including deficiency classification) is
derived from the mandated inspections. Section 2 of the bill requires that
DOT, in consultation with the states, inventory all bridges on the
federal-aid highways, identify those that are structurally deficient or
DOT assign a risk-based priority for replacement or rehabilitation of
the bridges identified as structurally deficient or functionally
“Bridge Collapse Continues to Spur Legislative Proposals, Funding Discussion,” Daily
Report for Executives, August 10, 2007, p. A-11.
DOT determine the cost of replacing or rehabilitating each of such
DOT inventory all other public road bridges (i.e., those bridges not
on the federal-aid highway system) and also identify those that are
structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and assign a risk-based
priority for the replacement or rehabilitation of these off-system
bridges, and determine the cost of replacing or rehabilitating each of
DOT, at the request of a state, may inventory bridges, on or offsystem, for historic significance;
DOT, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, shall
inventory bridges on Indian reservation roads or park roads and also
identify those that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete
and assign a risk-based priority for the replacement or rehabilitation,
and determine the cost of replacing or rehabilitating each of such
DOT must, after modifying the national bridge inspection standards
in accordance with the bill (discussed later) but within 18 months of
enactment, establish a process of assigning risk based priorities as
required under the bill and submit a report describing the process to
the T&I Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works
the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct an independent
review of the DOT’s process for assigning risk-based priorities and
report to the T&I and EPW committees with the results of the NAS
review within two years of enactment; it authorizes $2 million to
carry out this independent review;
a state’s five-year performance plan may provide for increased
inspection of an historic bridge instead of rehabilitation or
FHWA must consider emergency evacuation routes in the risk-based
prioritization for deficient bridge rehabilitation or replacement.
Frequency of Bridge Inspections. The bill would make as a statutory
condition for providing assistance to a state under the HBP that the state
inspect bridges located within the state within 24 months of
enactment and every 24 months thereafter in accordance with
requirements of the National Bridge Inspection Program (Title 23
within 24 months of enactment and every 24 months thereafter
calculate the load rating for highway bridges within the state that
have a structural deficiency in a load-carrying member and ensure
that such bridges are properly posted;
State Performance Plans and Bridge Management System. States
establish a five-year performance plan for the inspection of and for
the rehabilitation or replacement of any that are structurally deficient
or functionally obsolete; DOT must approve or disapprove each
state’s performance plan; and
develop and implement bridge management systems to improve the
targeting and utilization of HBP funds.
National Bridge Inventory Information Availability. Within a year of
enactment, DOT is to take the necessary actions to make National Bridge Inventory
information more readily available to the public and easier to understand. Authorizes
$2 million to carry out this subsection.
National Bridge Inspection Program (NBIP) Provisions. The bill adds
a policy statement that the “standards established under this subsection shall be
designed to ensure uniformity among the states in the conduct of such inspections
and evaluations.” H.R. 3999 also makes a number of changes to the NBIP, including
that DOT is
to establish procedures for conducting annual compliance reviews
of state inspections, quality control and quality assurance
procedures, load ratings and weight limit postings of structurally
to establish procedures for states to report to DOT any “critical
findings” of safety or structural deficiencies and subsequent
monitoring activities and corrective actions;
provide for testing with state-of-the-art technology that detects
growth activity of fatigue cracks as small as 0.01 inches on steel
bridges exhibiting fatigue damage or bridges with fatiguesusceptible members;
As was mentioned earlier in this report, under the NBIS regulatory structure, the general
required inspection is 24 months, however, states may request FHWA approval to inspect
bridges on an up to 48-month frequency under certain conditions. Under H.R. 3999 some
of these features of the NBIS would become statutory rather than regulatory and implies that
funding could be withheld from a state that failed to adhere to these requirements.
to establish standards for state bridge management systems to
improve the bridge inspection process and the quality of data
collected for inclusion in the NBI; and
to expand the scope of the training program to ensure that all persons
conducting highway bridge inspections receive appropriate training
and certification under the program;
Frequency of Bridge Inspections. At a minimum, standards are to provide
annual inspections of structurally deficient highway bridges using
best practicable technologies and methods;
annual in-depth inspections of fracture critical members;
biennial inspections of non-structurally deficient highway bridges;
the possibility that DOT may extend the period of time up to four
years under certain conditions.
Program Manager and Team Leader Qualifications. Would require
that an inspection program manager of a state be a professional engineer licensed
under the laws of that state and that an individual serving as an inspection team
leader for the inspection of complex bridges or the follow-up inspections of bridges
that have received a critical finding be a professional engineer. Team leaders for all
other bridges must either be a licensed professional engineer or have at least ten years
of bridge inspection experience. The change would only apply to individuals
selected to serve as program managers or team leaders after the date of issuance of
Bridge Closure Impacts. Within 15 days of a critical finding that results in
the closure of a bridge, DOT shall report on the regional transportation impact,
including the economic impact, of the closure. DOT is required to recommend
solutions to mitigate such impacts.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) Study. Requires a GAO study
to identify factors that contribute to construction delays of bridge rehabilitation and
make recommendations to simplify and expedite such construction.
Surface Transportation Research. The bill would add language to
broaden the scope of bridge research to explicitly include research to enhance the
safety of bridge structures including research on nondestructive tests to assess the
structural integrity of bridge facilities.
Authorization. The bill would authorize $1 billion for FY2009 for use under
the HBP. The funds would be limited to use on National Highway System
structurally deficient bridges. The funds are not transferable and remain available
until expended. None of the funds may be earmarked by Congress or any federal
department or agency for a specific project or activity. None of the funds may be
used to employ workers in violation of Section 274A of the Immigration and
Naturalization Act (8 U.S.C. 1324a).
Information and Reports. The bill would require DOT, if necessary, to
revise on an annual basis, information required under Title 23 Section 144 for the
national bridge inventory. Concurrently with the President’s annual budget
submission to Congress, the DOT is to submit, to the T&I Committee in the House
and the EPW Committee in the Senate, a report containing a description of projects
and activities under the HBP, a description of the revised information, discussed
above, including descriptions of the priority assigned for the replacement or
rehabilitation of each structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridge on a
federal-aid highway. The report is also to include any project carried out by a state
that is inconsistent with the priorities assigned by the DOT for bridge replacement
or rehabilitation. The Secretary of DOT may also recommend improvements to the
program. Within one year of enactment the DOT is directed to make the information
contained in the national bridge inventory more readily available to the public.
Flexible Funding. The bill places a limitation on the ability of a state to
transfer contract authority apportioned to the state under the HBP to the other core
federal-aid highway programs. The transfers would only be allowed if the state could
demonstrate that the state has no structurally deficient bridges scheduled for
replacement on the state’s National Highway System roads.63
Definitions. The bill codifies the DOT’s administrative and regulatory
definitions of functionally obsolete, structurally deficient, rehabilitation, and
replacement within the context of the HBP.
Bridge Advanced Condition Assessment Pilot Program. Section 6 of
the bill requires the DOT to establish and implement, within 180 days of enactment,
a pilot program to evaluate the effectiveness, accuracy, and reliability of the use of
advanced condition assessment inspection processes and technologies (including
fiber optic, vibrating wire, acoustical emissions, and peak strain displacement
technologies) in monitoring and evaluating the health of a highway bridge. The
technologies are to be real-time sensing technologies.
DOT may make grants for up to 15 highway bridges in not more than five states.
The bridges must be classified as structurally deficient; a non-redundant, fracture
critical structure; and greater than 200 feet in length. The federal funding share is
80%. The pilot program is to last two years. Five million dollars is authorized to
carry out the pilot program. Within six months of the end of the pilot program, the
DOT is to submit to the House T&I and Senate EPW Committees a report on the
effectiveness and benefits of the pilot program.
See the flexibility and transferability issues discussion in the earlier Issues for Congress
section of this report.
GAO Study on the Bridge Rating System Effectiveness. GAO shall
conduct a study of the FHWA’s bridge rating system, including the use of the terms
“structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete,” to describe the condition of
highway bridges in the United States. GAO shall also evaluate bridge rating systems
used by state departments of transportation and provide recommendations on how
successful aspects of such bridge rating systems may be incorporated into the
FHWA’s bridge rating system.
Use of Carbon Fiber Composite Materials. Requires DOT to conduct a
study on the “cost benefits of using carbon fiber composite materials in bridge
replacement and rehabilitation projects instead of traditional construction materials.”
Not later than 180 days after enactment, DOT shall transmit a report on the results
of the study to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) of the
House and the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) of the Senate.
Corrosion Mitigation and Prevention Plans. Expresses the sense of the
Congress that each state should prepare a corrosion mitigation and prevention plan
for each bridge construction, replacement or rehabilitation project.
Flood Risks to Bridges. DOT, in consultation with the states, shall conduct
a study of the risks posed by floods to bridges on Federal-aid highways, bridges on
other public roads, bridges on Indian reservations, and park bridges that are located
in a 500-year flood plain. Not later than two years after enactment, DOT is to report
the results of the study to the T&I Committee in the House and the EPW Committee
in the Senate.
National Tunnel Inspection Program. DOT shall establish, in
consultation with state transportation departments and interested and knowledgeable
private organizations and individuals, national tunnel inspection standards for the
proper safety inspection and evaluation of all highway tunnels. The standards are to
be designed to ensure uniformity among the states in the conduct of such inspections
Appendix A. Bridge Condition by State
Table 4. Bridge Condition by State as of August 13, 2007
Percent of State Bridges
Percent of State Bridges
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration,
Bureau of Transportation Statistics; based on data from Federal Highway Administration, National
Bridge Inventory, Deficient Bridges by State and Highway System, special tabulation. Data as of Aug.
Note: Explanations for the terms Structurally Deficient and Functionally Obsolete can be found on
pages 14 and 15 in Chapter 3 of the Federal Highway Administration, 2006 Conditions and
Performance Report; the following is a link to Chapter 3 of the report: [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/
Appendix B. Transfers from the Highway Bridge Program
Table 5. HBR Transfers to Other FHWA Programs: FY2000-August 8, 2007
Source: Federal Highway Administration, Transfer of Bridge Program Funds to a Federal-Aid Highway Program.
Appendix C. Federal Bridge Obligations
Table 6. Bridge Obligations by Fiscal Year and Program, FY2000-FY2007: as of August 10, 2007
National Highway System
Surface Transportation Program
Congestion Mitigation And Air Quality
Appalachian Development Highway System
1% Metropolitan Planning
High Priority Projects
Minimum Guarantee - TEA-21
Equity Bonus Exempt Lim
Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program
Safe Routes To School
Planning And Research
2,986,469,119 2,504,417,429 3,124,750,405
5,255,992,914 5,036,431,176 5,292,332,965
Source: FHWA, August 23, 2007.
Note: FY2007 figures are through August 10, 2007. The totals are not limited to work on deficient bridges and include the following types of work: Bridge, New Construction; Bridge
Replacement, Added Capacity; Bridge Replacement, No Added Capacity; Bridge Rehabilitation, Added Capacity; Bridge Rehabilitation, No Added Capacity; Special Bridge;