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Public Roads - March/April 2012

March/April 2012
Issue No:
Vol. 75 No. 5
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Course on Bridge Safety Inspections Updated

by Lilly Pinto

The Nation's highway system depends on more than 600,000 bridges to make mobility and commerce possible -- and sustain Americans' way of life. This immense, aging inventory needs to meet increasingly strict inspection and maintenance requirements. Trained inspectors, therefore, are critical to assessing the condition of each structure and keeping bridges safe and functional.

Comprehensive training is a Federal requirement for all leaders of bridge inspection teams and program managers. The number of bridges requiring inspection, coupled with a transitioning workforce, puts this training in high demand. One of the National Highway Institute's (NHI) most popular courses is Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges (FHWA-NHI-130055). States rely on this course to ensure that their inspectors are aware of the latest developments in bridge inspection. To become a team leader, inspectors are required to take this 2-week training at least once during their careers.

Updated Content

In 2011, an NHI panel updated the course content to reflect the latest research, lessons learned from bridge failures and inspection findings, and feedback from training participants. The updated course includes two long field trips rather than one short one; stresses identification of critical findings and responses; and adds material on the new element-level rating developed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). According to AASHTO, the goal of element-level ratings "is to capture the condition of bridges in a way that can be standardized nationwide, yet provide enough flexibility to be adapted to all agency settings."

The revamped course contains two half-day inspections so that participants can put into practice the skills learned in class. In addition, NHI implemented an audience response system to gauge how participants are digesting the information. This system provides immediate feedback to allow more explanation of concepts if needed. Other exercises provide an opportunity to work in small groups simulating actual inspection teams. Also, a new virtual bridge inspection module provides an alternative to field trips in case of inclement weather.

"By including activities to engage the course participants regularly throughout the training, the panel that developed this update took care not only to make this a richer technical experience, but also an excellent learning experience," says Louisa Ward, NHI training program manager for structures and geotechnical engineering.

In conjunction with the update, NHI revised the Bridge Inspector's Reference Manual (FHWA NHI 03-001), the reference used during the training. NHI successfully piloted the course in fall 2011 and held the first session in Minnesota on March 3, 2012.

New Courses Complement the Update of 130055

NHI now offers three options to meet the prerequisite requirements for Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges. The first is a Web-based "test-out" option aimed at experienced bridge inspectors and individuals who have engineering backgrounds.

The second option is a 14-hour Web-based training that contains a number of knowledge checks and exams to ensure that all potential participants in 130055 possess the same level of understanding. "The Web-based training provides participants with time to become familiar with bridge inspection terms and engineering concepts at their own speed," says Ward.

Training for this option includes modules on the bridge inspection program; bridge components, elements, and mechanics; design features; bridge materials (steel, concrete, and timber); decks, superstructures, and bearings; substructures; channels; inspection preparations and reporting; and work area safety.

The third option is a 1-week course titled Engineering Concepts for Bridge Inspectors (FHWA-NHI-130054), which NHI updated in 2010. This course provides knowledge of the basic concepts in bridge engineering needed by inspectors. Covered are materials, material properties, bridge components and details, loadings, stresses and strains, and deterioration of bridge materials and members.

This prerequisite course concludes with an examination reviewing key elements of bridge engineering. Successfully completing the examination with a score of 70 percent or more is required to receive a certificate of attendance.

For more information on the updated course, the new prerequisites, or other bridge inspection training, contact Louisa Ward at 703-235-0523 or Please visit the NHI Web site,, to learn more about NHI's products and services.


Participants in the Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges course examine bridge components during field exercises.


Lilly Pinto is a contributing editor for Public Roads.