Bridge Infrastructure:

Matching the Resources to the Need

RCED-91-167: Published: Jul 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO compared the Department of Transportation's (DOT) current methodology for determining bridge needs with a level-of-service approach, focusing on: (1) which methods proved more useful for assessing the nation's bridge needs; and (2) the DOT reauthorization proposal to use a new methodology for identifying deficient bridges eligible for federal funding.

GAO found that: (1) the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) used a sufficiency-rating methodology to determine that 238,000 bridges were deficient and that $50.7 billion would be needed to address their problems; (2) the sufficiency-rating approach is inadequate for setting priorities among deficient bridges, since it does not identify the bridges that, if improved, afford the greatest level of service to the public or provide information on what bridge improvements can be made with existing resources; (3) FHwA needs estimates were limited, and DOT did not provide policymakers with adequate information to identify critical bridge needs or to target federal funds to those highway systems with most critical needs; (4) some states have developed a level-of-service methodology for determining critical bridge needs and setting funding priorities; (5) the FHwA-proposed use of a level-of-service approach to identify deficient bridges would not rank bridges from the most to the least deficient; (6) using a level-of-service approach, 5,251 bridges could be improved at the $8.3-billion investment level proposed for the apportioned bridge program; (7) primary and urban highway systems have the most critically deficient bridges; (8) while the DOT proposal would require states to spend at least 10 percent of bridge funds on local bridges, GAO analysis indicated that states would only need 1 percent of the proposed funding to improve those bridges; and (9) the level-of-service approach could be used to determine critical bridge needs and to target federal funds to each of the three bridge categories identified in the DOT reauthorization proposal.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Recommended action was included in the Senate Reauthorization bill but not in the House bill. Conference committee and final legislation passed in December 1991 did not contain GAO recommended actions.

    Matter: As Congress considers reauthorization of the federal-aid highway program for fiscal year (FY) 1992 to FY 1996, and how to ensure the most effective use of federal bridge funds, Congress may wish to consider targeting federal bridge funds to those highway systems with the most critically deficient bridges on the basis of the level-of-service analysis discussed in this report.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Recommended action was included in the Senate Reauthorization bill but not in the House bill. Conference committee and final legislation passed in December 1991 did not contain GAO recommended actions.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider requiring the Secretary of Transportation to update the GAO analysis in future biannual reports on the condition of the nation's highways and bridges. This information will indicate progress made in addressing bridge deficiencies by highway system and help Congress to target bridges during reauthorization periods beyond FY 1996.

 

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