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BRIDGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR TRANSPORTATION AGENCY DECISION MAKING SUMMARY The objective of this synthesis study has been to gather information on current practices that agency chief executive officers and senior managers use to make network-level invest- ment and resource allocation decisions for their bridge programs, and to understand how they apply their agency's bridge management capabilities to support these decisions. The following areas of planning, programming, and performance-based decision making have been addressed: · Condition and performance measures that are used to define policy goals and perfor- mance targets for the bridge program · Methods of establishing funding levels and identifying bridge needs · Methods and organizational responsibilities for resource allocation between the bridge program versus competing needs in other programs (pavement, safety, etc.) · Methods of allocation among districts and selection and prioritization of projects · The role of automated bridge management systems (BMS) in planning, program- ming, resource allocation, and budgeting · Use of economic methods in bridge management · Methods to promote accountability and communication of the status of the bridge inventory and the bridge program. The study has also considered recent trends and events that could influence future bridge program management. Several state departments of transportation (DOTs) that were interviewed for this study described ongoing, leading-edge enhancements of their bridge management processes and systems that provide examples for other agencies to apply in the future. The increasing application of asset management principles among state DOTs is another such influence, encompassing bridges, pavements, and a growing set of other transportation assets. Several actions following the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in August 2007 also promise to reshape bridge management practices in the future, with increasing emphasis on program performance, federal oversight and account- ability, inspection qualifications and procedures, use of innovative inspection technology, and research needs to improve BMSs, procedures, and technology. Information on these topics was gathered through a review of literature on U.S. and international bridge management, a survey of U.S. and Canadian agency bridge manage- ment practices and assessments, and 15 in-depth interviews with state DOT executives and bridge managers. Twenty U.S. agencies and four Canadian agencies responded to the survey. Bridge management in the United States has taken major strides in the past 40 years, with significant accomplishments at the federal and state levels. The National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS), which were implemented in the 1970s, established a single, unified method of collecting data on the nation's public-highway bridges. These data are submitted annually by state DOTs to the FHWA, which compiles them within the National Bridge Inventory database. The NBIS have enabled the FHWA and state DOTs to monitor bridge condition and performance nationally on a consistent basis, identify bridge needs,
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2 define criteria of project eligibility for federal bridge funding, and thereby promote pub- lic safety through better stewardship of bridge assets. Following the implementation of the NBIS, substantial advances have occurred in bridge management at the national and state levels. Today, all state DOTs have a bridge management process. Most employ some type of automated BMS with an associated database of bridge-related information, including NBIS data and ratings, but often incorporating more detailed element-level data or additional, customized data. State DOTs differ in their specific procedures for bridge program-related management, funding, and resource allocation. This variability is driven by several factors, among them (1) different philosophies of bridge management; (2) different approaches to planning, program- ming, and budgeting; (3) the characteristics of each agency's transportation system and its infrastructure; and (4) the policy, financial, technical, and institutional environment in which each agency operates. Despite the diversity of their practices, agencies that were addressed in this study appear to have integrated their bridge management procedures and systems well within their individual planning, resource allocation, programming, and budgeting pro- cesses. Philosophies of bridge management may contrast across agencies (e.g., centralized vs. decentralized decision making; use vs. nonuse of prediction models to forecast bridge network condition). Nonetheless, in each case that was studied in this synthesis, the agency has configured its bridge program management to fit within its organizational, financial, managerial, and technical modes of operation. It has tailored its internal communications of information, as well as its institutional relationships with other agencies, accordingly. In interviews conducted under this study, state DOTs stressed the importance of repeated consultations to seek agreement between central office and district personnel, regardless of which management approach they used. In many agencies, the management style is mixed, with centralized techniques often applying to bridge replacement and rehabilitation [i.e., projects that are eligible for federal Highway Bridge Program (HBP) funding], and more decentralized responsibility typically applying to bridge maintenance and repair (i.e., proj- ects tending to be funded more often by state money). Decisions thus flow both top down and bottom up. Even in decentralized organizations, the central office often handles major bridge projects and may retain responsibility for bridges on "trunk line" or "backbone" networks that have statewide significance. Further insight into the decision-influencing role of bridge management may be gained by considering how agencies use their BMS. The systems vary in analytic capabilities and sophistication, ranging from straightforward repositories of bridge data to full-fledged man- agement systems that include such tools as forecasting models, comparative analyses (sce- nario testing), and optimization procedures or decision rules. Full-featured systems operate at both the program or network level and at the level of individual bridges or projects. Those agencies that have a full-featured BMS thus have the ability to apply higher-end analyses such as project planning, network-level budget scenarios, trade-off analyses, and economic analyses of agency and user costs and benefits. However, the actual use of these capabilities is by no means a given. As a general statement, BMS capabilities are underutilized, a situa- tion that has been observed by other studies as well for at least 10 years. For example, many agencies--including those with sophisticated products--use their BMS solely to manage bridge inspection data. Those agencies that have applied more advanced functionality may still take advantage of only a subset of available features. To establish a benchmark for the current state of practice, interviews were conducted in this study with agencies that do use virtually the full set of available BMS features, including economic analyses and scenario testing. These DOTs might thus be viewed as leading-edge BMS practitioners. In addition to using a full set of BMS capabilities, several of them try to understand bridge program investments in a broad context--for example, considering impacts on different classes of road users and effects on local economic situations.
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3 More generally, however, the characteristic use of BMSs for state DOT decision making is toward more limited ends, including the following: · Compilation and display of current and near-term information rather than long-term analyses · A focus on technical results such as bridge condition and performance rather than also considering economic comparisons of benefits and costs · A preference for straightforward calculations and analyses, including database man- agement and computations of bridge ratings and indexes, rather than more sophis- ticated modeling such as forecasting, scenario analyses, trade-off analyses, and optimization. Likely components of agencies' databases regarding bridge condition and performance include the results of their bridge inspection program and computed NBIS ratings--Struc- tural Deficiency, Functional Obsolescence, and Sufficiency Rating. Agencies may also define custom measures of condition or performance to reflect local bridge, traffic, and transportation system characteristics. Many DOTs reserve more comprehensive, sophis- ticated, long-term analyses for major bridge projects. In considering applications more broadly to the entire bridge network, these types of analyses tend to be the purview of the subset of agencies that routinely employs more advanced BMS features, as discussed earlier. An important way to adapt bridge management to an agency's business and decision processes is through customization --the ability to define new BMS data, performance measures, analytic procedures, and reports. Among agencies that were interviewed in this study, these customizations are important to ensuring that bridge management information remains relevant to agency decisions across all affected organizational units and levels. In particular, customized performance measures such as deficiency-point calculations and custom bridge health indexes in several cases were believed to be critical to advancing state-specific practices technically, managerially, and procedurally. These new indicators were supported and used by upper management and served bridge-office as well as execu- tive-level informational needs for investment planning, resource allocation, and budgeting. Some agencies also saw customized bridge rating indexes as a way to get better guidance on bridge investment needs and benefits, to compensate for what they believed were short- comings in the Sufficiency Rating as a criterion for bridge replacement and rehabilitation. Organizational responsibilities for decision making vary to some degree by agency, but the following statements generally hold. An agency's bridge office is substantially involved in all programming decisions that deal specifically with bridges, but this author- ity is shared with other groups within and outside the agency. For example, major bridge projects involve strong participation by agency executives and, in some states, the oversight transportation board or commission. Regional and local officials will also be involved for major bridge projects in urban areas. Local bridge programs engage important roles by local and regional bodies together with the state agency's local or municipal assistance office. Districts (or regions or divisions) generally have a strong say in decisions involving all categories of bridge projects within their jurisdictions, including local, state owned, and major bridges. One programming decision for which the bridge unit does not have a dominant role among reporting agencies is in the allocation of resources among competing agency pro- grams: bridge versus pavement, safety, maintenance, and so on. Leadership on this deci- sion is seen either as an executive-level function, with transportation board or commission involvement as well in several states, or as a broader departmental decision involving units such as planning, investment management, policy and strategy, project management, and (in a Canadian province) the director of highway design and construction. In two of the
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4 states responding to the survey, this decision is decentralized, with program allocations made by districts. In some states, this decision may be moot if bridge funding is allocated "off the top" or is reserved in a noncompeting set-aside. Even with off-the-top or set-aside bridge program funding, however, resource allocation may present issues if the total amount of bridge funding has remained level or declined over time and is now significantly less than current bridge needs. Agencies use economic methods to varying degrees in bridge management, but overall, the practices do not represent wide use. Common examples of applications to individual structures include the use of benefit-cost analysis for major bridge projects, and life-cycle cost comparisons of rehabilitation versus replacement options for specific structures. Agen- cies that have full-featured BMSs are more likely to employ economic analyses in network- level bridge management, but the practice is not yet widespread; also, some agencies may have reservations about the transparency of these analytic procedures or disagreements with the methods' assumptions. FHWA division offices have encouraged greater use of economic analyses in bridge management, and several agencies interviewed in this study plan to apply such analyses to a greater degree in the future. Several factors that have been identified in this synthesis project point to coming changes in bridge program management, including likely revisions to the NBIS specifically. These factors will shape how advances in bridge management practices, systems, and informa- tion will inform future investment and resource allocation decisions. Although these factors are still evolving and their outcomes are not yet determined, it appears likely--based on the numerous and significant federal and state actions that are described in this report-- that changes will occur in state DOT bridge inspection and condition assessment, bridge program management, and application of the NBIS. It also appears likely that federal (i.e., FHWA) oversight of these activities, and particularly over the correction of structurally defi- cient and functionally obsolete bridges, may be strengthened. There may also be a greater focus on accountability to relate funding to performance, quality assurance, quality con- trol, and increased compliance reporting among state DOTs, the FHWA, the U.S.DOT, and Congress. Potential influences on future management practices stem in part from ongoing activities such as BMS enhancements by selected state DOTs, which advance the state of the art to the benefit of peer agencies--for example, customized additions or improvements in BMS data and database processing, new bridge condition and performance indexes, and custom BMS models to estimate near-term and long-term impacts of bridge investments. Other influences on future practice derive from activities such as state DOT, TRB, and FHWA participation in several recent peer exchanges on ways to improve asset management through better plan- ning, programming, budgeting, and use of data and information. Still other activities have identified and reinforced exemplary methods in infrastructure management--for example, a U.S. domestic scan on best practices in asset management, and an FHWA initiative on systemwide bridge preservation. The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in August 2007 catalyzed a number of more far-reaching, national-level influences on future directions in bridge program manage- ment. It should be noted that the causes of the I-35W collapse and the completion of the sub- sequent bridge replacement project were not within the scope of work of this study and have not been addressed in this report. However, this tragedy launched several actions that may significantly enhance and refocus bridge program management and the NBIS, specifically. These factors, which are summarized here, are discussed in chapter four: · A comprehensive review of the NBIS that is now being conducted by the U.S.DOT's Office of the Inspector General. This three-phased review will consider (1) FHWA's progress in meeting previous recommendations for oversight of structurally deficient
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5 bridges nationwide, (2) state DOT use of federal bridge funding to correct struc- tural deficiencies, and (3) FHWA oversight of the safety of National Highway System (NHS) bridges nationwide. · Public reaction following the I-35W bridge failure, which indicated confusion over the meaning of "structural deficiency" and its implications for bridge condition and public safety. · Changes in HBP procedures and criteria that were proposed in congressional testi- mony. State DOT executives, some of whom represented both their respective depart- ments and AASHTO, recommended several updates to federal HBP decision making and to how the NBIS sufficiency and deficiency ratings are applied as program crite- ria. Hallmarks of this testimony included proposals for greater flexibility in program funding decisions and greater reliance on systematic, data-driven, performance-based methods in lieu of arbitrary criteria. Several other aspects of federal and state bridge program funding were also covered, as were topics of bridge inspection, innovative inspection technology, materials performance, and research needs. · A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the federal HBP, the data and techniques available for bridge management, and results to date in cor- recting structurally deficient bridges. The GAO recommended several actions: (1) to define the national goals of the HBP, (2) to determine HBP performance in relation to these goals, (3) to identify and evaluate bridge management best practices that can improve HBP performance, and (4) to investigate ways to align HBP funding more closely with performance, supporting a more focused and sustainable federal bridge program. · Legislation now before Congress that will affect the future practice and technol- ogy of bridge management. Current bills before the House and Senate define several actions to be undertaken by federal and state agencies with respect to bridge program management and resource allocation. Although provisions of these bills are subject to further congressional deliberation, if passed substantially in their current form they will mandate a number of items, for example, (1) state DOT use of BMSs; (2) establishment of state 5-year performance plans for bridge inspections and correc- tion of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges, with such plans to be approved by the FHWA; (3) enhancements of the national bridge inspection program with specific requirements for dealing with critical findings and for strengthening inspection team training and qualifications; and (4) a number of other provisions.