Limited Funds and Numerous Deficient Off-System Bridges Create Federal Bridge Program Dilemma

RCED-84-66: Published: Dec 8, 1983. Publicly Released: Dec 8, 1983.

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GAO conducted a review in four States which have a high percentage of deficient bridges which are off the Federal-aid highway system to suggest how Federal assistance can more effectively address the problem.

GAO found that, despite substantial increases in funding, the off-system bridge program is still severely strained. The average of 1,000 off-system bridges that are replaced or rehabilitated under the program each year is a small accomplishment compared to the 183,000 bridges that are currently deficient and the other bridges that will need replacement in the near future. GAO found that the costs to replace a given off-system bridge can vary considerably depending on its location, who is paying for the replacement, and who makes the decision on its design and construction. Federal, State, and local officials often disagree on the level of funds that should be committed to the replacement or rehabilitation of an off-system bridge. A major reason for these cost differences is the varying standards to which bridges are built. GAO found that local governments build less costly bridges with their own funds because they are more likely to build to local rather than nationwide standards. GAO found that the States which it reviewed do not have procedures to ensure that less costly alternatives available for bridge construction are identified and considered, nor does the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) generally review State decisions for off-system bridges. GAO believes that less costly construction programs deserve greater attention at all levels of government; however, this must be tempered with the need to ensure that safety and the bridge's life are not unduly compromised and long-range costs remain reasonable.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FHWA Administrator to establish an explicit requirement in the Secondary Road Plans that cost-effective, off-system bridges are to be built under the Federal bridge program. This requirement should provide for the States to build cost-effective bridges according to the policy guidance which GAO recommended.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the FHWA Administrator to provide further policy guidance to FHWA offices and the States on off-system bridge standards. The policy guidance should: (1) provide for the replacement or rehabilitation of as many bridges as possible that are safe and adequate, have a reasonable life, and do not require excessive maintenance; (2) take into account factors such as the size of the off-system bridge problem, available resources, the nature of off-system traffic, local needs, and the likelihood of the roads being upgraded in the near future; and (3) include guidance on the conditions that warrant exceeding the minimum American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials bridge standards and specific criteria for considering exceptions to build below the minimum standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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