August 26, 2014

IG Critical of Bridge Safety Implementation

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, took issue with the Obama Administration for continuing its slow implementation of critical bridge safety reforms. A new U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) Inspector General (IG) report released today in response to a request Rahall made in 2013 highlights serious concerns with the implementation of bridge safety changes contained in the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act" (MAP-21) as well as the lack of adherence to IG recommendations that have been made on bridge safety over the years.

“While I thank the Inspector General for this sobering and comprehensive assessment, it shouldn’t take an IG investigation to spur the Department of Transportation to act on potentially life-saving recommendations for shoring up our nation’s bridges,” said Rahall.  “Nearly 47 years after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in my home state of West Virginia, significant concerns about bridge safety remain, and I am continuing to press for the action and investment needed to address the long list of bridges in need of repair and replacement nationwide.”

In June of 2013, Rahall sent a letter to then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging him to expedite the implementation of bridge safety updates contained in MAP-21 as well as previously issued IG recommendations on the issue. Rahall also wrote a letter to the US DOT’s IG requesting an update on compliance, the results of which were released today.

“With thousands of highway bridges across the country carrying loads that they were not designed to accommodate and in use well beyond their life expectancy, we need to ensure that measures to ensure bridge safety are being properly administered,” said Rahall. “Unfortunately, this report once again highlights shortcomings in federal oversight and management of highway bridge safety, and it raises serious questions about the agency's ability to implement critical policies and programs.”

The IG’s report found that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has fallen behind in implementing important performance and accountability provisions of MAP-21.  These provisions were designed to increase the accountability of state DOTs in the use of federal-aid highway funds to improve the conditions of the nation's highways and bridges.  According to the IG, it could be years before FHWA begins to enforce MAP-21’s requirements to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in the United States.  Some key findings from the report released today include:

  • FHWA is addressing MAP-21’s bridge safety provisions but has yet to fully implement all requirements.
  • FHWA did not fully address one completed MAP-21 bridge funding eligibility action.
  • FHWA is making progress on remaining MAP-21 actions, but critical performance and accountability requirements are behind schedule.
  • FHWA has not finalized plans for a process to prioritize bridge projects or report bridge replacement costs.
  • FHWA completed most prior IG bridge recommendations, but four remain open.
  • FHWA made significant progress addressing IG recommendations to resolve national bridge inventory errors, but vulnerabilities persist.

Rahall has long been an advocate of increasing bridge safety.  He introduced the SAFE Bridges Act (H.R. 2428), which provides targeted funding to states to address the massive backlog of deficient highway bridges.  He is currently working with his colleagues to include H.R. 2428 in the next reauthorization of the nation's surface transportation programs.