Bridge Condition Assessment:

Inaccurate Data May Cause Inequities in the Apportionment of Federal-Aid Funds

RCED-88-75: Published: May 20, 1988. Publicly Released: May 20, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) 1986 Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (HBRRP) report to Congress, focusing on: (1) the accuracy of its National Bridge Inventory; and (2) FHwA procedures for ensuring equitable apportionment of federal funds to states.

GAO found that the FHwA report did not accurately identify bridge funding needs and could not ensure equitable apportionment of funds, since FHwA: (1) did not exercise sufficient control or oversight over its field offices to ensure that they adequately examined states' bridge inventory data or states' data collection and reporting methods; (2) did not obtain adequate data from states to differentiate among those bridges requiring total replacement, those requiring remedial improvements, and those that states did not intend to repair; (3) included bridges which were not deficient in its inventory; and (4) allowed states to use inconsistent methods and include inappropriate costs in their estimates of bridge repair costs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The following alternative actions are underway which DOT believes will satisfy this recommendation: a new coding guide for bridge inventory appraisal was issued in December 1988; instructions for bridge unit cost data reporting were changed; a final rule on changes in the NBIS is underway; improved edit updates and report generator capability; and ongoing FHwA field review of bridge sites.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to establish a management oversight program, which would include guidance to the states, as well as an internal control process, to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of states' bridge inventories.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT improvements to the Recording and Coding Guide for Structure Inventory and Bridge Appraisals may address GAO concerns, but it does not satisfy the need for estimated cost for bridges in need of relatively inexpensive improvements. DOT also notes that its procedure of expanding average cost per bridge is being used to encompass all HBRRP-eligible bridges.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FHwA, should provide cost-to-improve estimates corresponding to the various categories of deficient bridges. The Administrator should also prescribe an appropriate method for states to use when estimating the cost to replace and rehabilitate their deficient bridges.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT/FHwA believes its current method of estimating costs to improve all bridges eligible for HBRRP funding is valid.

    Recommendation: To further ensure the quality of states' bridge data and the equity of the HBRRP apportionment process, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to exclude those bridges that are not in need of replacement or rehabilitation from the apportionment database.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FHwA does not plan to change its current approach which it believes is easy to compute, minimize paperwork, and provide a reasonable estimate of each state's bridge needs in relation to other states. However, FHwA points out several systemic improvements, such as development of comprehensive bridge management systems to make better use of available bridge funds.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to require states to report the data that would enable FHwA to identify in its annual report varying levels of bridge deficiencies. At a minimum, states should identify deficiencies in three categories: (1) those bridges that need relatively inexpensive improvements such as traffic control devices; (2) those bridges that need total replacement or rehabilitation; and (3) those bridges that the states do not intend to replace or rehabilitate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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