DOT inspector general to audit bridge safety efforts

Bridge_Collapse.JPEG-012b9-106  A truck is removed from the wreckage of an Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, Wash., on May 27, 2013, after the bridge collapsed May 23. (Washington Department of Transportation via AP)

The Department of Transportation’s inspector general’s office announced Monday that it will conduct a series of audits examining the Federal Highway Administration’s efforts to ensure bridge safety.

The move comes at the request of Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.), ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. It follows the collapse of a portion of the Skagit River Bridge in May in Washington state. No one was injured in the incident, but it raised serious questions about the state of the nation’s bridges. The cost to repair the broken segment of the Skagit River Bridge is approximately $5 million — but that is a mere fraction of what it will cost to get the nation’s bridges into shape.

According to a June 2013 story by The Post’s Ashley Halsey III, the Federal Highway Administration says it will take an estimated $76 billion to repair deficient bridges that carry 260 million vehicles each day. Other DOT estimates say there is a $121.2 billion backlog of deficient highway bridges.

This is territory the inspector general’s office has explored before. Since 2006, the office has issued three reports with recommendations for ways the FHWA can improve its oversight of bridge programs. This new set of audits will explore what became of those recommendations as well as provisions related to bridge safety in current transportation safety law.

“Thousands of bridges across the country are carrying loads that they were not designed to accommodate and are in use well beyond their life expectancy,” said Rahall in a news release. “In addition to appropriately investing in the repair and replacement of these aging structures, we need to ensure that measures designed to ensure bridge safety are being properly administered.”

Rahall and a group of Democratic transportation leaders recently introduced legislation to provide $5.5 billion for bridge improvements.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.

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Robert Thomson · August 5, 2013