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Chapter 1: Introduction


One of the primary goals of the U.S. transportation community is to improve safety on the Nation's roadways. In response to that goal, Federal, State, and local transportation agencies consider the inspection of the country's nearly 600,000 bridges vitally important. These agencies invest significant funds in bridge inspection activities each year. There is high interest in making sure that the quality of the bridge inspection program is maintained at the highest level and that funds are used as effectively as possible.

The National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) were developed to establish standards for a nationwide bridge inspection program. The intent of this program is to monitor and document the condition of bridges and enhance bridge safety. The January 2005 revision to the NBIS specifically requires State and Federal agencies to assure that quality control/quality assurance (QC/QA) procedures are used to maintain a high degree of accuracy and consistency in the bridge inspection program. The Federal government defines quality assurance as the use of sampling and other measures to assure the adequacy of quality control procedures to verify or measure the quality level of the entire bridge inspection and load-rating program. It defines quality control as procedures intended to maintain the quality of a bridge inspection and load rating at or above a specified level. In addition, many bridge owners have elected to collect data beyond that required by the NBIS. Better knowledge of QC/QA programs and data types collected abroad should provide meaningful advice to the U.S. transportation community.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and bridge owners also have strategic goals on improving the overall condition of bridges and tactical programs aimed at extending service life. These goals are commonly derived from the interpretation of bridge data identified and documented through the bridge inspection program. FHWA also uses the inspection data as a factor for allocating and distributing Highway Bridge Program funds. Improving the overall quality and determining that the right data are reported through the inspection program will help maintain a high level of safety for the traveling public, ensure effective use of limited funds with an equitable distribution, and assist bridge owners in achieving their safety and mobility goals.


The results of this scan are intended to assist bridge owners and FHWA in refining and continuously improving actions taken to address the provisions of the 2005 NBIS regulation. Although many QC/QA programs exist in the United States, there was significant interest in exploring the most effective bridge inspection systems in other countries. FHWA is also obligated to satisfy the guidelines of the Data Quality Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2001. The data collected through the U.S. bridge inspection program must not only enhance bridge safety for the traveling public, but also help form the basis for programming bridge maintenance, repair, rehabilitation, and replacement activities.

The scanning study was cosponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), FHWA and, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).

Scan team topics of interest included the following:

Amplifying Questions

Amplifying questions were developed to help the foreign experts more fully understand the topics of interest to the scan team members. These questions, in Appendix A, were provided to the host countries before the scan. The contacts in each country are listed in Appendix C, and the scan itinerary is in table 1.

Host Countries

The team conducted a series of meetings and site visits with representatives of government agencies and private sector organizations abroad between June 1 and 17, 2007. The panel visited Denmark, Finland, France, and Germany and met with representatives from Norway and Sweden while in Denmark. These six countries were selected through a desk scan based on their advanced activities in bridge evaluation, bridge management, and quality assurance.

Team Members

A 10-member team was formed to study European bridge inspection practices, specifically targeting quality assurance. This team consisted of three representatives from FHWA, four representatives from State departments of transportation (DOTs), one representative from the National Association of County Engineers, one representative from academia, and one structural engineering design consultant who also served as the report facilitator.

Table 1: Scan itinerary
Date Location Activities
Monday, June 4, 2007 Helsinki, Finland Meeting in offices of Finnish Road Administration (Finnra). Presentations on bridge MR&R in Finland, BMS in Finland (tools: bridge database, inspection data, BMS project and network level), and general information on inspections (organizational structure and background, inspection data).
Tuesday, June 5, 2007 Helsinki, Finland Meeting in offices of Finnra. Presentations on inspection quality (process control, personnel qualifications), inspection methods and equipment, reference bridges, special inspections, and documentation.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007 Helsinki, Finland Meeting in offices of Finnra. Presentations on bridge engineering research and development, cooperative programs with northern countries, and the National Structural Monitoring Project.
Thursday, June 7, 2007 Copenhagen, Denmark Meeting hosted by Danish Road Directorate at Eigthveds Pakhus. Presentations by Norway, Denmark, and Sweden on amplifying questions.
Friday, June 8, 2007 Virum, Denmark Meeting in offices of Ramboll Consulting Engineers. Presentations on the company, internal quality assurance procedures, principal inspection, special inspection (including nondestructive testing), bridge deterioration, evaluating inspection results, and improving evaluation of bridges, and demonstration of Ramboll`s inspection van, equipment, and procedures. Field visit to the Storebaelt Great Belt Fixed Link for presentations on the operation of the Great Belt Bridge and the East Bridge anchor block and tower.
Monday, June 11, 2007 Bagneux, France Meeting in offices of Center for Technical Studies of Highways and Motorways (SETRA). Presentations on methodology for management of national bridges (IQOA, Sustainable Bridge project), steel bridges: use of inspection data for existing bridges, design versus inspection of steel bridges: fatigue assessment philosophy, brittle fracture, detailing, and training and qualification of inspectors.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 Paris, France Meeting in offices of Central Laboratory for Bridges and Highways (LCPC). Presentations on prestressed concrete bridges (inspection of external prestressing), cable-stayed and suspension bridges, assessment of cable by acoustical method and by vibrating methods, and LREP practice.
Thursday, June, 14 2007 Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany Field visit and observation of two ongoing bridge inspections. Meeting in offices of German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt). Presentations on organizational structure of federal highways, background and personnel qualifications, and training programs.
Friday, June, 15 2007 Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany Meeting in offices of BASt. Presentations on bridge inspection (rules, regulations, and documentation inspection of engineering structure equipment) and nondestructive training bridge management system (post-processing of the excursion, results of the inspection).
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