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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

FHWA Commemorates 50 Years of Bridge Safety

Friday, April 30, 2021

FHWA 10-21
Contact: Nancy Singer
Tel.: (202) 366-0660

WASHINGTON – This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) observed the 50th anniversary of its National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS), the basis for the federal program that helps to protect nearly 620,000 bridges across the country.

“For a half-century, NBIS standards have been at the core of federal infrastructure safety efforts,” Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said. “The data we collect under the program help keep bridges safe and identify areas where maintenance is needed before problems arise.”

Even as the number of bridges in the NBIS program has grown 588,735 to 618,456 over the last 20 years, the program has ensured these bridges are safe for the Americans who rely on them for travel and commerce.

The NBIS requires regular and thorough inspections of highway bridges by trained inspectors to detect potential structural problems early and to ensure maintenance efforts are being carried out. State departments of transportation inspect bridges, on average, once every 24 months and report the results to FHWA. If a bridge is rated as potentially unsafe, immediate actions are taken – including closure, prompt repairs, or load posting to restrict use by heavy vehicles.

In addition to specialized training for bridge inspectors, the program also requires the collection of bridge condition data for inclusion in FHWA’s National Bridge Inventory (NBI) which helps transportation officials make informed decisions about funding priorities.

“The NBIS is vital to bridge safety in our nation,” Pollack added. “The Administration’s American Jobs Plan proposes significant investment in our nation’s bridges to continue improve their condition and make them even safer.”

FHWA officially adopted the NBIS regulations in 1971 after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in West Virginia. The bridge collapsed into the Ohio River in 1967 because of a crack in the bridge’s suspension chain. The tragedy, which cost the lives of 46 people, brought national attention to the issue of bridge condition safety and led to a systematic effort to ensure oversight at the national level.

Since its inception, FHWA has worked to strengthen the program, by updating training requirements for bridge inspectors, and replacing narrative bridge inspection summaries with specific assessment criteria to improve consistency.

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan would provide an additional $115 billion to modernize the bridges, highways, roads, and main streets that are in most critical need of repair. It will fix the ten most economically significant bridges in need of reconstruction and repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, reconnecting communities across the country.

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