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Public Roads - November/December 2016

November/December 2016
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

Taking Tunnel Inspections to a New Level

by Judy Francis

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that there are more than 470 highway tunnels in the United States. Many of these tunnels are more than 50 years old and are quickly reaching the end of their designed service lives. But, until recently, tunnel owners and operators lacked Federal guidance for conducting mandatory tunnel inspections.

In July 2006, the importance of tunnel inspection gained national attention when part of the I–90 Central Artery Tunnel in Boston, MA, collapsed, killing a motorist. In addition, the affected portion of the tunnel remained closed for 5 months for repairs, causing significant traffic delays and productivity losses.

The incident led the National Transportation Safety Board to suggest, among other recommendations, that FHWA seek legislative authority to establish a mandatory tunnel inspection program similar to the National Bridge Inspection Standards. Signed in July 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) mandated such a program, and in August 2015, FHWA established the National Tunnel Inspection Standards. MAP-21 also called for a program to train appropriate personnel to carry out tunnel inspections, and that is where course developers with the National Highway Institute (NHI) stepped in.

Virtual Technology in Training

FHWA worked with NHI to develop content for course 130110, Tunnel Safety Inspection. Building on the virtual technology NHI used to create its award-winning bridge inspection training, developers incorporated that technology into the new course.

The Tunnel Safety Inspection course uses virtual technology as an alternative to traditional field inspections. The capstone case study is a tunnel inspection that takes place in a computer-simulated, 3–D environment, exposing participants to a variety of conditions unlikely to be found during a single real-world inspection. The simulation also enables participants to demonstrate what they have learned without the time or budgetary expense required for traditional field trips.

Award-Winning Virtual Technology

In 2015, FHWA received the International Association for Continuing Education and Training’s Innovation of the Year Award for Technology Integration for incorporating the virtual bridge technology into course 130055, Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges. The award recognizes the best of the best in technology integration and innovation.

FHWA and NHI continue to innovate using this technology, most recently expanding its use to training on tunnel inspection. And, in June 2016 NHI piloted two additional virtual bridges--a steel truss bridge over a railroad and a concrete tee beam bridge--in its in-service bridge inspection course.

Using virtual technology, shown in this screen capture, enables training participants to experience tunnel inspections without time-consuming and costly trips into the field.

“Due to congestion, security, and vulnerability issues, it is impractical to arrange for onsite inspection of tunnels as part of the training,” says Rodolfo Maruri, a bridge engineer at FHWA. “The virtual inspection provides an alternative that enables course participants to go through the same procedures as required in onsite inspection of tunnels. The technology provides the opportunity to achieve NHI’s training objectives in a controlled environment that simulates actual conditions and helps ensure that future tunnel inspections are done consistently nationwide.”

Interactive Learning

The 5-day, instructor-led training consists of nine highly interactive modules. Participants work through a series of case studies, giving them an opportunity to practice and apply their knowledge through simulations of real-life tunnel inspections. The course covers everything an inspector needs to know to execute a successful inspection. At the end, participants can identify critical structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, signage, lighting, fire safety, and security elements, as well as recommend an appropriate inspection frequency.

Prior to enrollment, participants must complete one of three prerequisite courses: Engineering Concepts for Bridge Inspectors (130054), Introduction to Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges (130101), or Prerequisite Assessment for Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges (130101A). NHI strongly recommends that participants complete Safety Inspection of In-Service Bridges, or possess equivalent field experience. A background in the design or safety inspection of in-service tunnels or bridges is also helpful, but not required.

Incidents like the ceiling collapse in Boston’s Central Artery Tunnel underscore the safety imperative for tunnel inspections, and NHI’s training helps ensure that tunnels are safer, more secure, and maintained in a state of good repair.

For more information or to register for a course, visit the NHI Web site at

Judy Francisis a contracted marketing analyst for NHI.