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Public Roads - November/December 2014

November/December 2014
Issue No:
Vol. 78 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Bridge Inspection Course Goes to College

by Imani Lester and Dr. Earl Lee

The Nation’s bridge infrastructure relies heavily on the work of bridge safety inspectors to ensure quality, safety, and overall performance for public use. Therefore, safety inspectors are federally mandated to undergo comprehensive training to lead bridge inspection teams and become successful program managers. The National Highway Institute (NHI) developed Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges (130055) and updated it in 2012 based on the latest edition of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Bridge Inspector’s Reference Manual (FHWA NHI 12-049). The course provides the most current information on the safety inspection of in-service bridges.

To expose inspectors to a wider variety of bridge conditions and defects than they may easily find for training purposes in the field, NHI developed a virtual, computer-based 3–D alternative to the real-world field inspection required by the course. The 3–D Virtual Bridge Inspection includes two virtual bridges--a steel bridge over a roadway and a concrete bridge spanning water--that each present 15 checkpoints for student teams to investigate and evaluate. (For more on virtual bridge inspection, see “Training Update” in the May/June 2013 issue of Public Roads.)

Now the safety inspection course is breaking new ground as the first NHI training to be used as a technical elective for an undergraduate college program.

Bringing Bridges into the Classroom

In January 2014 the Delaware Technology Transfer (T2)/Local Technical Assistance Program Center and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware hosted the bridge inspection course. Twenty-four junior and senior civil engineering students took the course during the winter semester to satisfy one of the three technical elective requirements for their degrees.

Professor Harry “Tripp” Shenton, chair of the department, had the idea to sponsor the course. “I thought it would be an excellent technical experience to put into practice what we are teaching in the classroom,” he says. “I also knew that completing the course would be an advantage for this group of students when searching for jobs and internships.”

The safety inspection course is one of only a few NHI structures courses that have a prerequisite requirement, which all of the students completed online without difficulty. Over the course of the 2-week training, students learned about a majority of current construction standards, bridge construction types, and even some materials not typically used today, but still in service. They also learned about other factors not associated with the structure itself, such as inspection safety, traffic control, signing, and approach railing.

For the bridge inspection requirement of the course, the students used the computer-based 3–D alternative. They were able to inspect a bridge using virtual safety equipment, tools, and support equipment just like they would find in the field.

These students in teams of two complete virtual inspections, using laptops in the classroom.

Measuring Its Success

The feedback from the student participants was very positive. “One of the best parts of the class was the interactive nature of it,” explains Bobby Andersen, a senior civil engineering major at the University of Delaware. “The questions [the instructors] asked made the students think critically about what they just learned and apply it to the question.”

When measuring the success of the course, Professor Shenton was pleased to report that all participants passed and received their certificates. It was also a success in that it provided a beneficial opportunity and experience for the students. The department intends to keep the course as part of its winter session offerings.

“I think it was a great opportunity for [the students] to learn the terminology and see actual photos of various bridge types or components before hitting the job market,” says Diane Kretz, P.E., a structural engineer with the FHWA New Jersey Division, who also attended the course. “They all worked hard during their 2-week training, and I think their test scores probably would show it. I can’t tell you enough what a great idea it was for the university to initiate this course for [its] students.”

For more information, visit the NHI website at For questions, contact NHI at or 877–558–6873.


Imani Lester is a contractor for NHI. Dr. Earl Lee is the T2 coordinator for the Delaware Center for Transportation.