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FHWA Proposes Streamlined Bridge Review
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Girder Bridge
Reinforced-concrete beam-and-girder bridges and multigirder bridges are among those that may be eligible for a streamlined review process proposed by the Federal Highway Administration, a process that could save taxpayers millions of dollars. Wikimedia Commons/Todd Murray

Agency hopes to save $78 million in individual review expenses by grouping together a large number of common highway bridges with negligible historical value.

October 23, 2012—The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) plans to streamline the historic preservation review process for approximately 196,000 reinforced-concrete and steel bridges built between 1946 and 1970 that utilize standard designs. Many of these bridges, constructed during the post-World War II expansion of the highway system, are approaching the end of their expected life spans and have negligible historical value.

Currently, any bridge affected by a federal project that appears to meet the threshold of potential historical significance—usually by virtue of its age—must be individually evaluated to determine if it meets the criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, said MaryAnn Naber, a federal preservation officer with the FHWA in written comments to Civil Engineering online.

“If the bridge meets those evaluation criteria, it is assessed for project impacts,” Naber said. “At a minimum, evaluating a bridge to determine its historic significance can run into hundreds of dollars and considerable staff time. Applied to the 196,000 bridges to which the program comment will apply, just this initial screening adds up to tens of millions of dollars.”

The FHWA has requested the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to approve a “program comment” approach, which would eliminate the need for case-by-case reviews for reinforced-concrete slab bridges, reinforced-concrete beam-and-girder bridges, and multibeam and multigirder bridges under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The program comment is not a waiver of Section 106 for projects involving common bridges. Officials must still complete a Section 106 review to consider the effects on historical properties that might be impacted by a project—including alterations to traffic patterns caused by a replacement bridge or temporary effects of a construction project, for example.

The program comment also will not apply to arch bridges, truss bridges, movable spans, suspension bridges, or covered bridges, which must still undergo individual reviews. The program comment also makes an exemption for bridges that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places or that have previously been determined to be eligible.

Another exemption from the program comment is made for applicable bridges that are either early or important examples of a type or that have distinctive engineering or architectural features that depart from standard designs. Examples are bridges with exceptionally large spans, unusual complexity, or such uncommon aesthetic features as exceptional railings or balustrades.

The FHWA developed the list of 196,000 eligible using information from the National Bridge Inventory (NBI), a comprehensive listing of nearly 600,000 bridges across the country. The NBI contains detailed construction information, including the year the bridge was built and the materials used. The FWHA also utilized the report A Context for Historic Common Bridge Types, which discusses the characteristics of these bridges, Naber said.

A draft of the program comment was published in the Federal Register on September 5, 2012; the final language of the program comment was distributed to members of the ACHP on October 16, with a final vote expected by October 29.

If the program comment is approved, states will have until December 31to develop a list of exceptional bridges that meet the criteria for special consideration, requiring an individual review.

“The program comment will remove, in one action, the need to individually evaluate, assess, and determine appropriate mitigation for the impacts to this entire group of bridges,” Naber said. “FHWA expects this new approach will save taxpayers roughly $78 million in project funds over the next 10 years that would have gone toward the cost of individual bridge reviews.”


 

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