FHWA ACTING ADMINISTRATOR BRANDYE L. HENDRICKSON REMARKS, Silver Bridge Remembrance Ceremony Point Pleasant, West Virginia
It is an honor to be here with you all today – to pay tribute to the victims of the Silver Bridge collapse 50 years ago, and to recognize the legacy of safety it left for the nation.
The 46 people who died here left families and friends behind. It left grief and sorrow in its wake, only days before Christmas.
But the nationwide attention it generated drastically changed the way we approach bridge safety… and the hundreds of millions of Americans who have driven over a bridge any time in the last 50 years are safer as a result.
Ever since the Silver Bridge collapse, our efforts have grown stronger. Safety is our top priority, and we want ensure that bridges remain safe for public travel.
No community… no family… no one should suffer a loss like this.
History – Nat’l Bridge Inspection Standards
When this tragic collapse happened, our country had no such thing as a national bridge inspection program. Each state had its own state inspection programs, but so far as we know, there were no training requirements for bridge inspectors or anything.
This tragedy raised many questions about the state of bridges nationally. For starters -- how many bridges were there in the U.S.?
How were they made, what were they made of, how old were they? How much traffic did they carry?
There were no answers to basic questions like that, because there was not yet a nationwide collection of bridge information.
The Silver Bridge tragedy propelled America nation into a new era of bridge safety – and it was made official the following year when Congress called for a national bridge inspection program.
Congress passed the Federal-aid Highway Act of 1968 which called for the federal government to work with state DOTs to create a national-level bridge safety inspection program
The new program required safety inspections of bridges at least once every two years using National Bridge Inspection Standards.
It also established federal qualifications for bridge inspectors and training.
Better inspectors… and more frequent and more thorough inspections. What today seems obvious was groundbreaking back then.
The nation’s Bridge Program has evolved much since then – but one thing remains unchanged: Our commitment to keeping drivers and their passengers safe.
We want everyone to get from one side to the other. We want everyone to get home safely.
This is a big responsibility because there are a LOT more bridges in the U.S. than you’d think. The hard lessons learned from this tragedy 50 years ago protects America’s 615,000 bridges– and those who depend on them.
We are continuing to explore new ways of keeping bridges safe, including using robotic bridge inspectors, drones, and various other cutting-edge tools.
Applying science and technology to such matters helps us inspect bridges more quickly, and more thoroughly, than ever before.
Even now, as we sit here today, hundreds of bridges are being inspected across the country and evaluated by qualified inspectors.
That says something about the commitment to bridge safety at local, state and national levels. As someone who drives across bridges at least twice a day, I find that very reassuring.
Over the last 45 years, the percentage of bridges in poor condition has dropped from 16 percent to 8 percent. This is the sort of progress America deserves, but we are far from done. Our goal is to have ZERO bridges in poor condition.
The National Bridge Inspection program is helping us head in that direction. We already have examples of its worth:
In 2013, during a routine bridge inspection, bridge inspectors found a problem on the I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge near Louisville, KY, that might have led to its collapse – and they closed it immediately. It meant short-term inconvenience for the 75,000 daily drivers who depended on it, but repairs were made and it is open again to traffic. That routine inspection saved lives.
In 2015, the I-95 Chestnut Street Bridge in Philadelphia was closed after inspectors found a cracked concrete pier that could have caused a big part of the bridge to collapse. The bridge carries almost 150,000 vehicles every day, meaning that bridge inspection saved lives too.
And earlier this year, between New Jersey and Delaware, bridge inspectors closed the I-276 Delaware River Bridge after they found a fractured truss member. That bridge carries about 50,000 vehicles a day, meaning that inspection saved lives too.
Successes like these are playing out in communities like this one every day, in every state. Each one is a little victory. Each one is a tragedy prevented.
We will never forget the 46 lives that were lost as the result here 50 years ago. Their memories are still with us, and their legacy lives on in the millions of people every day who make it home safely on a carefully inspected bridge.
All of us at the FHWA are working to make sure a tragedy like this one never happens again.
So before I go, I ask all of you to drive carefully during the winter months – and especially so throughout the holiday season when traffic will increase and tempers get short. Buckle up, don’t drink and drive, and stay off the cellphone while you drive. The most important safety device on the road today is the conscientious driver. Please drive carefully.
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