Senate Transportation & Housing Committee
“The State of California’s Bridges”
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
1:30 PM – Room 112
On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota unexpectedly collapsed during the evening rush hour. Scores of vehicles, including a school bus, were traveling across the bridge when it failed, sending many of those vehicles and their occupants into the river waters and resulting in injury and loss of life.
In response and at the request of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) inspected all 69 California bridges of similar construction to the Minneapolis bridge (i.e., all steel deck truss bridges) between August rdth3 and 5, and found “no significant problems.”
Caltrans reports that it operates 23,000 bridges on the state highway system of which 1620 are deemed “structurally deficient” under federally-prescribed inspection criteria. In
addition, there are 1950 local bridges that are rated structurally deficient.
This hearing will examine:
; the current inspection process for bridges in California;
; the condition of bridges on the state highway system and on local streets and roads; and
; the process and resources available to address problems identified with state and local bridges.
Caltrans employs 76 bridge inspectors who routinely inspect bridges in the state under guidelines that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) prescribes. These guidelines provide that Caltrans shall inspect bridges at least once every 24 months. Caltrans also inspects city- and county-operated bridges, except in the counties of Los Angeles and Santa Clara, where the local governments inspect their own bridges. Caltrans’ bridge inspectors are licensed engineers who have had 80 hours of specialized
training on bridge inspections.
An inspection involves a pair of inspectors viewing each bridge from a distance, walking the bridge’s deck, and going underneath the bridge to examine its support structure as well as the ground it sits on. Inspectors record cracks, peeling paint, and other signs of wear that they see, and remit this data to FHWA. When warranted based on a visual inspection, Caltrans uses additional techniques, such as ultrasound, acoustical testing, and dye-penetrate testing, to look inside a bridge for problems.
Using information gathered through inspections, FHWA calculates the “sufficiency rating” for each bridge. The sufficiency rating assigns a number from 0 (low) to 100 (high) to each bridge. Bridges that score 80 or lower and are deemed “structurally
deficient” or “functionally obsolete” are eligible for federal funds for repairs under the Highway Bridge Repair and Replacement (HBRR) program.
Structurally deficient. Caltrans asserts that a designation of “structurally deficient” or
“functionally obsolete” does not mean that a bridge is unsafe. Caltrans explains as follows on its website:
The federal bridge inspection standards require bridge conditions to be assessed on a
scale that ranges from 0 (low) to 9 (high). The federal government designates a
bridge as “structurally deficient” if the individual ratings for the deck condition,
superstructure condition, substructure condition or culvert condition are rated a 4 or
less. Additionally, a bridge can be classified as structurally deficient if it has a lower
load carrying capacity or the waterway below the bridge frequently overtops the
bridge. There are 1620 structurally deficient bridges on the state highway system with
approximately 95% of the bridges designated as structurally deficient due to minor
cracks in the concrete deck or the condition of the paint. The remaining 5% of the
bridges may or may not warrant repairs depending on the nature of the problem. The
need for repairs is evaluated by licensed engineers based on the condition assessment
and/or analysis of the bridge.
Functionally obsolete. The federal government designates bridges as functionally
obsolete if the number of lanes on the bridge does not meet current standards, the vertical clearance above the bridge is restrictive, or the roadway alignment is not ideal. Additionally, a bridge may be designated functionally obsolete if it has a lower load capacity that prescribed by the federal government or water frequently overtops the bridge. Caltrans reports that there are just over 2000 functionally obsolete bridges on the state highway system in California and that approximately 90% of these bridges carry the functionally obsolete designation because of narrow road widths and restrictive vertical clearances.
Scour critical. Scour critical bridges are those that could sustain scour to their foundations sufficient to put the bridge out of service in the event of a large flood. Caltrans uses a continuous, remote monitoring system to keep tabs on the bridges during potential flood periods.
Resources to address deficient bridges
Currently Caltrans reports spending $450 million annually on bridge inspections, maintenance, and rehabilitation. These funds come from the State Highway Account, which receives its revenue from the excise tax on motor vehicle fuels and from weight fees. In addition, the transportation bond authorized under Proposition 1B provides $125 million for the 11.5% local match required to receive federal HBRR program funds to seismically retrofit local bridges. This $125 million is expected to leverage about $1.1
billion in federal bridge repair funds. Currently, 479 local bridges are in need of seismic retrofitting in the state.
stThis Transportation and Housing Committee’s August 21 hearing will examine the
bridge inspection process, the process for prioritizing work on bridges deemed deficient through those inspections, and the resources available to complete that bridge work. The hearing will examine both state-owned and operated bridges and locally-owned and operated bridges. To this end the hearing will include testimony from Caltrans, the League of California Cities, and the California State Association of Counties.
The hearing will also provide testimony on proposals to improve the inspection process and to increase resources to address deficiencies found in bridges in California. The Legislative Analyst’s Office and an academic civil engineer from the University of
California, Irvine are included on the agenda to provide an outside perspective on these matters.
Will Kempton, Director, California Department of Transportation
Mr. Kempton began work at Caltrans in 1973, and his work there included a stint as Assistant Director for Legislative and Congressional affairs. After leaving Caltrans, Mr. Kempton administered the County of Santa Clara’s transportation sales tax program as
executive director of that county’s Traffic Authority. Later Mr. Kempton was a principal
in Smith-Kempton (later Smith-Kempton-Watts), a transportation consulting and advocacy firm, and in 2003 began serving as an Assistant City Manager in Folsom. In 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger named him Director of Caltrans.
Patrick DeChellis, Deputy Director, Public Works, County of Los Angeles
Mr. DeChellis, who is appearing on behalf of the California State Association of Counties, overseas the local bridge program in Los Angeles County including the inspection of all local bridges in county unincorporated areas and in cities other than the City of Los Angeles. In addition, Mr. DeChellis chairs the Transportation Committee of the County Engineers Association of California, and he is one of two county engineer representatives on the Statewide Highway Bridge Advisory Committee.
Randy Breault, Public Works Director, City of Brisbane
Mr. Breault, who is appearing on behalf of the League of California Cities, overseas the operations, maintenance, design, and construction of the City of Brisbane’s roads and bridges. Mr. Breault is a licensed civil engineer and is the current President of the San Mateo County City/County Engineers’ Association. He is an active member of the League of California Cities Public Works Officers Institute.
Masanobu Shinozuka (invited), Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of
Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California Irvine
A member of National Academy of Engineering, Dr. Shinozuka’s research focuses on the
risk-based resilience and sustainability analysis of civil infrastructure systems such as highway, electric power and water delivery networks under extreme loading conditions arising from natural and manmade hazards. He is an expert in the safety analysis of highway bridge structures under operational conditions such as traffic loads. His analysis incorporates a periodic damage inspection process to estimate the remaining strength of bridges. Professor Shinozuka developed energy efficient MEMS-based sensor network systems with real-time wireless communication capability. This system can perform health monitoring and damage detection of infrastructure networks under extreme loading conditions such as severe earthquakes.
Anthony Simbol, Principal Fiscal & Policy Analyst, Legislative Analyst’s Office
Mr. Simbol covers transportation programming and financing, including state highways and local streets and roads, for the LAO. He received his Master of Public Policy degree in 1998 from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.
Through this hearing the committee seeks to answer the following major questions:
; Is the current bridge inspection program in the State of California sufficient to protect the motoring public and sufficient to determine which bridges are in need of repair?
; What is the condition of California’s state and local bridges?
; Are the owners and operators of these bridges able to prioritize correctly bridge maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation efforts?
; What resources are needed to correct California’s bridge deficiencies? Are those
resources currently available at the federal, state, and local levels? If not, how should these resources be increased to meet that need?