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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Committee on 
Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Wednesday, July 21, 2010: 

Highway Bridge Program: 

Condition of Nation's Bridges Shows Limited Improvement, but Further 
Actions Could Enhance the Impact of Federal Investment: 

Statement of Phillip R. Herr, Director: 
Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

GAO-10-930T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-10-930T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Highways and Transit, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, 
House of Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

One in four bridges in the United States is either structurally 
deficient and in need of repair, or functionally obsolete and is not 
adequate for todayís traffic. The Highway Bridge Program (HBP), the 
primary source of federal funding for bridges, provided about $7 
billion to states in fiscal year 2010. This testimony addresses (1) 
the current state of the nationís bridges and the impacts of the HBP 
and (2) the extent to which the HBP aligns with principles GAO 
developed to guide the re-examination of surface transportation 
programs. This testimony is based on prior GAO reports, updated with 
bridge data and information provided by agency officials. 

What GAO Found: 

There are over 600,000 bridges on the nationís roadways, of which one 
in four is deficient in some sense. Data indicate that the total 
number of deficient bridges has decreased over the past 12 years, even 
as the total number of bridges has increased, because of a reduction 
in the number of structurally deficient bridges. However, the impact 
of the federal investment in the HBP is difficult to measure, in part 
because there are no comprehensive and complementary data for state 
and local bridge spending. The lack of comprehensive information on 
state and local spending makes it impossible to (1) distinguish the 
impact of HBP funding from other funding to improve bridge conditions 
and (2) determine the extent to which states may be substituting 
increased HBP funding for state and local funds that they would 
otherwise have spent on bridges. Evaluating the impact of the HBP is 
important not only to understand the outcome of past spending but also 
to determine how to sensibly invest future federal resources. 

The HBP does not fully align with GAOís principles for re-examining 
surface transportation programs in that the program lacks focus, 
performance measures, and fiscal sustainability. The programís 
statutory goals are not focused on a clearly identified national 
interest but rather have expanded from improving deficient bridges to 
supporting preventive maintenance and many other projects, thus 
expanding eligibility to include almost any bridge. In addition, the 
program lacks measures linking funding to performance and does not 
utilize new tools such as bridge management systems. Fiscal 
sustainability also remains a challenge given the nearly $30 billion 
in additional revenues added to the Highway Account since fiscal year 
2008. 

Figure: Trends in Number and Condition of Bridges, 1998 through 2009: 

[Refer to PDF for image: vertical bar graph] 

Year: 1998; 
Deficient bridges: 186,706; 
All bridges: 582,875. 

Year: 1999; 
Deficient bridges: 183,647; 
All bridges: 585,469. 

Year: 2000; 
Deficient bridges: 180,447; 
All bridges: 586,75. 

Year: 2001; 
Deficient bridges: 177,352; 
All bridges: 589,288. 

Year: 2002; 
Deficient bridges: 174,737; 
All bridges: 590,257. 

Year: 2003; 
Deficient bridges: 172,439; 
All bridges: 591,336. 

Year: 2004; 
Deficient bridges: 169,811; 
All bridges: 592,901. 

Year: 2005; 
Deficient bridges: 167,606; 
All bridges: 594,616. 

Year: 2006; 
Deficient bridges: 164,826; 
All bridges: 596,842. 

Year: 2007; 
Deficient bridges: 162,984; 
All bridges: 599,319. 

Year: 2008; 
Deficient bridges: 161,892; 
All bridges: 600,905. 

Year: 2009; 
Deficient bridges: 159,739; 
All bridges: 602,977. 

Increase in all bridges, 1998-2009: 20,102. 
Decrease in deficient bridges, 1998-2009: 26,967. 

Note: Deficient bridges include both structurally deficient and 
functionally obsolete bridges. 

Source: GAO analysis of 2009 FHWA data. 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO is not making any new recommendations. In 2008, GAO recommended 
that the Secretary of Transportation work with Congress to (1) 
identify and define national goals for HBP, (2) develop and implement 
performance measures, (3) identify and evaluate best tools and 
practices, and (4) review and evaluate HBP funding mechanisms to align 
funding with performance. DOT generally agreed with these 
recommendations and has taken some actions to work with Congress to 
address issues GAO raised regarding the HBP, but much work remains. 

GAO provided a draft of this testimony to FHWA for review. We 
incorporated FHWA comments, as appropriate. 

View [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-930T] or key 
components. For more information, contact Phillip R. Herr at (202) 512-
2834 or herrp@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Dear Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to participate in this hearing on 
federal efforts to address the condition of our nation's bridges. 
Bridges are critical elements of the nation's transportation network, 
which supports commerce, economic vitality, and personal mobility. 
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), it is 
authorized through the Highway Bridge Program (HBP) to provide 
approximately $7 billion to states in fiscal year 2010. This program 
provides funding to states for a variety of activities that improve 
the condition of their bridges.[Footnote 1] In addition to HBP 
funding, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery 
Act) provided $26.7 billion to the highway infrastructure investment 
to restore, repair, and construct highways and bridges and for other 
eligible uses, such as maritime industry projects. 

Since the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 
August 1, 2007, there have been calls for increased federal investment 
in bridge infrastructure. Calls for increased investment coincide with 
strains on traditional funding for infrastructure projects, as 
evidenced by recent shortfalls and subsequent infusions of additional 
revenues into the Highway Trust Fund, which funds the HBP and other 
highway programs. Surface transportation funding has been on our high- 
risk list for several years.[Footnote 2] We have also recently called 
for a fundamental re-examination of surface transportation programs 
and commitments to address emerging needs by eliminating outdated or 
ineffective programs, more sharply defining the federal role in 
relation to state and local governments, and modernizing certain 
programs.[Footnote 3] 

My testimony today addresses (1) the current state of the nation's 
bridges and impacts of the HBP and (2) the extent to which the HBP 
aligns with principles we developed to guide the re-examination of 
surface transportation programs.[Footnote 4] My testimony is based on 
prior GAO work, including our 2008 report and testimony on the HBP, as 
well as updated data and information.[Footnote 5] 

For our prior reports, we interviewed a range of federal, state, and 
local transportation officials, including officials in six states that 
we visited (California, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and 
Washington); analyzed data in FHWA's National Bridge Inventory (NBI), 
the primary source of information on the nation's bridges; and 
compared HBP practices to re-examination principles identified in our 
previous work. Those principles include identifying clear federal 
goals and roles, incorporating performance and accountability into 
funding decisions, using best tools and approaches, and ensuring 
fiscal sustainability. More detail on scope and methodology is 
available in each prior report. To update this report, we analyzed 
FHWA data and interviewed relevant officials. GAO provided a draft of 
this testimony to FHWA for review and comment. FHWA provided technical 
comments, which were incorporated, as appropriate. We conducted all 
our work in accordance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit 
to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable 
basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 
We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for 
our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Background: 

Bridges vary significantly in their size and use, including daily 
traffic volumes. In 2009, there were 602,977 bridges in the United 
States, which carried the nation's passenger car, truck, bus transit, 
and commercial vehicle traffic over waterways, highways, railways, and 
other road obstructions. The number of bridges owned is fairly evenly 
split between states (48 percent) and local government agencies (50 
percent). State agencies are responsible for 77 percent of the 
nation's bridge deck area, which carry 88 percent of the average daily 
traffic crossings. The federal government owns less than 2 percent of 
the nation's bridges, primarily on federally owned land. 

Bridge safety emerged as a high-priority issue in the United States in 
the 1960s, following the collapse of the Silver Bridge between Ohio 
and West Virginia, which killed 46 people. That collapse prompted 
national concerns about bridge condition and safety and highlighted 
the need for timely repair and replacement of bridges. Congress 
responded by establishing the National Bridge Inspection Program 
(NBIP) to ensure periodic safety inspection of bridges and what is now 
known as the HBP to provide funding and assist states in replacing and 
rehabilitating bridges. Both of these programs generally define 
eligible bridges as publicly owned, over 20 feet in length, and 
located on public roads.[Footnote 6] Although the NBIP and HBP are 
separate programs, they are linked by the data collected through 
bridge inspections. 

The NBIP establishes the National Bridge Inspection Standards, which 
details how bridge inspections are to be completed, by whom, and with 
what frequency. For example, state departments of transportation 
(state DOT) carry out the federal-level policies, procedures, and 
requirements for inventory, inspection, bridge load ratings, quality 
assurance, and reporting. Routine bridge inspections are generally 
conducted every 2 years by state bridge inspectors, but with FHWA 
approval, the inspection interval may be extended to 4 years on 
certain bridges. Bridges also may be inspected more often than every 2 
years, when past inspection findings justify an increase. Inspectors 
must report bridge condition information to the NBI, maintained by 
FHWA headquarters.[Footnote 7] 

Based on information gathered during inspections and reported to the 
NBI, the HBP classifies bridge conditions as deficient or not, assigns 
a sufficiency rating, and uses that information to provide funding to 
states. A bridge may be classified as deficient for one of two 
reasons: a structurally deficient bridge has one or more components in 
poor condition, while a functionally obsolete bridge has a poor 
configuration or design that may no longer be adequate for the traffic 
it serves.[Footnote 8] Bridge sufficiency ratings are calculated using 
a formula that reflects structural adequacy, safety, serviceability, 
and relative importance. Each bridge is assigned a sufficiency rating 
between 0 and 100. Bridges that are deficient and have a sufficiency 
rating of 80 or less may be eligible for rehabilitation and bridges 
that are deficient and have a sufficiency rating of less than 50 may 
be eligible for replacement or rehabilitation (see figure 1).[Footnote 
9] However, the HBP allows other activities to be funded with program 
funds, regardless of a bridge's eligibility. These activities include 
seismic retrofitting, scour countermeasures, and systematic preventive 
maintenance projects. 

Figure 1: FHWA's Process for Designating Bridges as Eligible for HBP 
Funding: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Bridge Classification: Not deficient: 
Bridges with acceptable condition, configuration and design; or: 
Sufficiency Rating: 81-100; 
Eligibility for Highway Bridge Program funds: 
Not eligible: (Classified as Not Deficient and/or having a higher than 
80 Sufficiency Rating). 

Bridge Classification: Structurally Deficient: 
Bridges in poor condition regardless of configuration or design; and; 
Sufficiency Rating: 50-80; 
Eligibility for Highway Bridge Program funds: 
Eligible for rehabilitation (Classified as Structurally Deficient or 
Functionally Obsolete with a Sufficiency Rating of 80 or less). 

Bridge Classification: Functionally Obsolete: 
Bridges with poor configuration or design regardless of condition; and; 
Sufficiency Rating: 0-49; 
Eligibility for Highway Bridge Program funds: 
Eligible for replacement or rehabilitation (Classified as Structurally 
Deficient or Functionally Obsolete with a Sufficiency Rating of less 
than 50). 

Sources: GAO and FHWA. 

[End of figure] 

The HBP gives states three key flexibilities in determining how to use 
their HBP resources. First, as mentioned above, states have the 
flexibility to use HBP funds not only for bridge replacement and 
rehabilitation, but also for a broad array of purposes regardless of 
bridge eligibility. Second, states have flexibility in determining how 
to split HBP resources between state and locally owned bridges. Aside 
from a requirement to distribute funds equitably, the only HBP 
requirement applicable to states' allocation of program funds is that 
states must set aside a minimum (15 percent) on non-Federal-aid 
highway bridges.[Footnote 10] Third, states may also spend HBP funds 
on other, nonbridge transportation priorities by transferring up to 50 
percent of their annual HBP funding to other core Federal-aid highway 
programs, though a penalty is invoked by reducing the state's HBP 
funds in the succeeding year by the amount transferred.[Footnote 11] 
Planning for how HBP funds are spent is generally under the control of 
state DOTs: once states select bridge projects, they apply to FHWA to 
obligate funding to cover the federal share of the costs, which is 
generally 80 percent of the project cost.[Footnote 12] 

Bridge Conditions Have Improved, but the Impact of the HBP Is 
Difficult to Determine: 

Bridge Conditions Have Improved but a Significant Number of Bridges 
Remain in Poor Condition: 

Of the 602,977 bridges on the nation's roadways, one in four is 
classified as deficient. Data indicate that the total number of 
deficient bridges has decreased since 1998, even as the total number 
of bridges has increased. From 1998 to 2009, the number of deficient 
bridges declined by over 14 percent, from 186,706 to 159,739, even 
with the addition of more than 20,000 new bridges to the NBI (see 
figure 2). 

Figure 2: Trends in Number and Condition of Bridges, 1998 through 2009: 

[Refer to PDF for image: vertical bar graph] 

Year: 1998; 
Deficient bridges: 186,706; 
All bridges: 582,875. 

Year: 1999; 
Deficient bridges: 183,647; 
All bridges: 585,469. 

Year: 2000; 
Deficient bridges: 180,447; 
All bridges: 586,75. 

Year: 2001; 
Deficient bridges: 177,352; 
All bridges: 589,288. 

Year: 2002; 
Deficient bridges: 174,737; 
All bridges: 590,257. 

Year: 2003; 
Deficient bridges: 172,439; 
All bridges: 591,336. 

Year: 2004; 
Deficient bridges: 169,811; 
All bridges: 592,901. 

Year: 2005; 
Deficient bridges: 167,606; 
All bridges: 594,616. 

Year: 2006; 
Deficient bridges: 164,826; 
All bridges: 596,842. 

Year: 2007; 
Deficient bridges: 162,984; 
All bridges: 599,319. 

Year: 2008; 
Deficient bridges: 161,892; 
All bridges: 600,905. 

Year: 2009; 
Deficient bridges: 159,739; 
All bridges: 602,977. 

Increase in all bridges, 1998-2009: 20,102. 
Decrease in deficient bridges, 1998-2009: 26,967. 

Note: Deficient bridges include both structurally deficient and 
functionally obsolete bridges. These data include bridges subject to 
the "10-year rule," which limits bridge eligibility for HBP funds. 

Source: GAO analysis of 2009 FHWA data. 

[End of figure] 

The decline in the overall number of deficient bridges--which includes 
structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges--is primarily 
attributable to a reduction in the number of structurally deficient 
bridges. Specifically, from 1998 through 2009, the number of 
structurally deficient bridges decreased by 25 percent, from 96,263 to 
72,388 (see figure 3). During that same period, the number of 
functionally obsolete bridges decreased by 3 percent, from 90,443 to 
87,351. The reduction in the number of structurally deficient bridges 
may reflect state efforts to address deterioration or damage. Although 
reducing or eliminating structurally deficient bridges may not always 
be a state's highest priority, structurally deficient bridges often 
require maintenance and repair to remain in service. In contrast, 
functionally obsolete bridges do not necessarily require repair to 
remain in service and therefore are unlikely to be state 
transportation officials' top priority for rehabilitation or 
replacement. 

Figure 3: Number of Structurally Deficient and Functionally Obsolete 
Bridges, 1998 through 2009: 

[Refer to PDF for image: multiple line graph] 

Year: 1998; 	
Structurally deficient bridges: 96,263; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 90,443. 

Year: 1999; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 91,048; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 92,599. 

Year: 2000; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 89,369; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 91,078. 

Year: 2001; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 86,084; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 91,268. 

Year: 2002; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 83,966; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 90,702. 

Year: 2003; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 82,211; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 90,228. 

Year: 2004; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 79,888; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 89,923. 

Year: 2005; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 77,776; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 89,830. 

Year: 2006; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 75,378; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 89,448. 

Year: 2007; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 74,042; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 88,942. 

Year: 2008; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 72,868; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 89,024. 

Year: 2009; 
Structurally deficient bridges: 72,388; 
Functionally obsolete bridges: 87,351. 

Source: GAO analysis of 2009 FHWA data. 

Note: These data include bridges subject to the "10-year rule," which 
limits bridge eligibility for HBP funds. 

[End of figure] 

Additionally, in our prior work, we found that the average sufficiency 
rating of all bridges--including both deficient and not deficient 
bridges--also improved slightly. Specifically, the average sufficiency 
rating for all bridges increased from 75 to 79 on the sufficiency 
rating's 100-point scale from 1998 to 2007. Further, while 
structurally deficient bridges generally have lower sufficiency 
ratings (average rating of 42 in 2007) than functionally obsolete 
bridges (average rating of 69 in 2007), the average sufficiency 
ratings of both types of deficient bridges improved slightly since 
1998. In updating our prior work, FHWA officials indicated that bridge 
sufficiency ratings have continued to improve (average rating of 80 in 
2009). 

In our Recovery Act work, a number of states have reported plans to 
use highway infrastructure investment funds to improve bridge 
conditions.[Footnote 13] Some of these plans include improvements to 
deficient bridges. For example, Pennsylvania is using some Recovery 
Act funds to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges in 
the state, in part because a significant percentage (about 26 percent, 
as of 2008) of the state's bridges is rated structurally deficient. As 
of June 30, 2010, 29 percent of Recovery Act funds in Pennsylvania 
were obligated for bridge improvement and replacement. Nationally, 
about $3.2 billion of the $26.7 billion in highway Recovery Act funds 
were obligated for bridge projects as of June 30, 2010. This includes 
funding for 61 new bridge construction projects ($719 million), 644 
bridge replacement projects ($1.3 billion), and 554 bridge improvement 
projects ($1.2 billion). 

HBP's Impact Is Difficult to Determine Due to Incomplete Information 
on Spending, Expansion of Bridge Project Eligibility, and Limitations 
in Bridge Condition Data: 

The impact of the federal investment in the HBP is difficult to 
measure in part because there are no comprehensive and complementary 
data for state and local spending on bridges. For example, while FHWA 
tracks a portion of bridge capital spending on a state-by-state basis, 
the data do not include (1) state spending on bridges located on local 
roads and (2) most local government spending on bridges, thus making 
it difficult to determine the HBP contribution to overall bridge 
expenditures. Also, while FHWA generates a single, national-level 
estimate for total bridge expenditures at all government levels, this 
estimate cannot be used to determine the impact of the HBP by state or 
by bridge. In addition, while two of the state DOTs we visited as part 
of our prior work had data on state bridge spending, none was able to 
provide comprehensive data on total state and local investment in 
bridges.[Footnote 14] Some officials we interviewed estimated that, in 
their states, such spending ranged from the minimum match amount--
generally 20 percent of the HBP apportionment amount--to more than 
four times the state's apportioned HBP funds. The lack of 
comprehensive information on state and local spending makes it 
impossible to (1) distinguish the impact of HBP funding from other 
funding to improve bridge conditions and (2) determine the extent to 
which states may be substituting increased HBP funding for state and 
local funds that they would otherwise have spent on bridges. Our 
previous work has shown that although the federal investment in HBP 
and other Federal-aid highway programs has increased over time, this 
investment has not resulted in commensurate increases in the nation's 
federal, state, and local government spending on the highway system. 
[Footnote 15] More specifically, we found in our previous work that as 
the level of federal funding has increased since the mid-1990s, states 
have not maintained their level of effort in highway spending, and 
federal funds have increasingly been substituted for state funds. This 
suggests that increased federal highway funding influences states and 
localities to substitute federal funds for state and local funds they 
otherwise would have spent on highways and bridges. 

The impact of the HBP is also difficult to measure because available 
bridge condition data cover only some of the improvements funded by 
the program. As discussed earlier, states can and do use HBP funds for 
a variety of activities in addition to rehabilitating and replacing 
their deficient bridges. Therefore, simply measuring changes in the 
number of structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges does 
not reflect the full impact of the program, since these measures do 
not capture the impact of the HBP investment in the other eligible 
activities--such as preventive maintenance--that do not necessarily 
result in an immediate reduction in the number of deficient bridges. 
Without quantifiable performance measures to track the full range of 
outcomes for the HBP, it is difficult to measure the program's impact 
across the range of activities funded and determine the extent to 
which the program is serving its stated purposes. 

Another difficulty in determining the impact of the HBP funding occurs 
because the NBI does not readily permit changes in the condition of 
bridges to be tracked across time. Each bridge in the NBI is assigned 
an identifying number by the relevant state DOT. However, the 
identifying number for a bridge at a specific location may change over 
the life of that bridge. Such a change may occur when a state 
renumbers, replaces, or closes and subsequently reopens a bridge. As a 
result, it is difficult to track changes in the condition of any 
specific bridge to determine if, for example, the same bridges that 
were deficient in 1998 are still deficient today, to see how many 
bridges have been replaced, or to determine the impact of new bridges 
added to the inventory--which may not be funded by the HBP--on the 
overall condition of the nation's bridges. In our Recovery Act work, 
we have found that DOT is not currently assessing the impact of 
Recovery Act funds used on highway transportation projects--including 
funds that are being used to improve bridge conditions--but is 
considering ways to better understand and measure impacts. For 
example, the NBI could be used to help FHWA study the impact of 
Recovery Act funds on the condition and performance of the nation's 
bridges, including whether these funds improved the state of repair. 
[Footnote 16] 

Evaluating the impact of the HBP is important not only to understand 
the outcomes of past spending, but also to determine how to sensibly 
invest future federal resources. The number of bridges in need of 
repair or rehabilitation is expected to increase as a large share of 
the nation's bridges built in the 1960s and early 1970s age. In our 
prior work, we reported that the average age of bridges in 2007 in the 
NBI was approximately 35 years, the average age of bridges with a 
sufficiency rating of 80 or less was 39 years (a deficient bridge with 
this rating becomes eligible for rehabilitation), and the average age 
of bridges with a sufficiency rating less than 50 was 53 years (a 
deficient bridge with this rating becomes eligible for replacement). 
[Footnote 17] This suggests that as the age of bridges in this group 
rises, so will the number of HBP-eligible bridges. As a result, states 
and local agencies may see a spike in their need for bridge 
rehabilitation and replacement funding over the next 15 years. In our 
work to update this report, FHWA officials indicated that bridge 
conditions are continuing to improve despite the aging of bridges and 
noted that other factors in addition to age--such as the original type 
of design, maintenance, and climate--contribute to bridge conditions. 
Also, the reduction in deficient deck area is an important measure of 
the overall condition of the nation's bridges. According to FHWA data, 
the structurally deficient deck area of bridges on all highway systems 
has decreased by about 11 percent between 1998 and 2009. Nevertheless, 
FHWA officials indicated that they expect these trends in bridge 
conditions to continue as long as historical investment trends are 
sustained. In this environment of increasing demand for limited 
resources, it is especially important for FHWA and Congress to be able 
to evaluate HBP's impact to ensure that the program is providing an 
acceptable return on investment and addressing national transportation 
needs. 

The HBP Lacks Focus, Performance Measures, and Sustainability: 

As we reported in 2008, the HBP does not fully align with our 
principles for re-examining surface transportation programs in that 
the bridge program lacks focus, performance measures, and 
sustainability. These principles, which are based on our prior work 
and federal laws and regulations, include: 

* ensuring program goals are well defined and focused on the federal 
or national interest; 

* incorporating performance and accountability into funding decisions; 

* employing the best tools and approaches to emphasize return on 
targeted federal investment; and: 

* ensuring fiscal sustainability. 

First, HBP's goals are not focused on a clearly identified federal 
interest. Over the years, the program's statutory goals have expanded 
from improving deficient bridges to supporting activities like seismic 
retrofitting and preventive maintenance, thus expanding eligibility 
for HBP funds to include almost any bridge in the country. Our 
previous work has emphasized the importance of identifying clear areas 
of federal interest as a first step in determining program goals. For 
example, if mobility is determined to be a key federal interest and a 
primary goal, the HBP could be targeted toward heavily congested 
bridges or ones that are important for economic competitiveness and 
carry higher levels of freight than bridges that may serve relatively 
few people or businesses each day. If rehabilitating and reducing 
deficient bridges is determined to be a key federal interest, then the 
program could be further targeted toward that goal.[Footnote 18] The 
federal interest may also be greater in mega-bridge projects that are 
too expensive for states to undertake without additional federal 
assistance or in projects that cross state lines.[Footnote 19] Under 
the current HBP structure, the federal share is generally 80 percent 
of the total project costs. The cost-sharing arrangement could be 
structured so that the level and share of federal funding reflects the 
benefits the nation receives from investment in a bridge project; 
however, in reality, this cost-sharing appears to reflect historical 
levels of funding for many surface transportation programs without 
reference to whether the cost share should vary by project or whether 
state and local governments could assume more responsibility. Once the 
federal interest has been determined, our principles suggest basing 
the federal share of the cost of the bridge project on the level of 
federal interest. 

Second, there is no clear tie between HBP funding and performance. HBP 
funds are apportioned to states without regard to program performance 
because the HBP formula is based on a calculation of needed repairs to 
deficient bridges, but the formula does not consider a state's efforts 
or effectiveness in reducing its inventory of deficient bridges or 
controlling costs. Because the federal formula does not factor in 
other eligible program activities, such as systematic preventive 
maintenance, there is no link between the apportionment formula and 
the states' performance of these activities. Without performance 
measures to link funding to performance, states lack an incentive to 
improve the return on the federal investment and are not held 
accountable for the results of their investments. Further, a bridge's 
deficiency status and sufficiency rating may not be the best proxy for 
bridge safety or risk. For example, states we visited in our prior 
work and officials we spoke with identified other priorities for 
bridge projects, such as seismic retrofitting, that are a greater 
safety concern for their bridge programs. Also, as states reduce the 
number of deficient bridges, they could become eligible for less HBP 
funding, which has created a potential disincentive for states to 
eliminate deficient bridges. Our work has shown that an increased 
focus on performance and accountability for results can help the 
federal government better target limited federal resources. 

Third, the HBP generally lacks sufficient tools to determine the 
results of the federal investment in bridges. In this regard, bridge 
management systems, which are currently used by many states but not 
required by law, may be useful for prioritizing projects and making 
funding decisions to improve results and emphasize return on 
investment. We have previously reported that states use bridge 
management systems for gathering and analyzing bridge data to help 
manage their bridge assets and more efficiently allocate limited HBP 
resources among competing priorities. For example, states use these 
systems to predict future bridge conditions, estimate maintenance and 
improvement needs, determine optimal policies for rehabilitation and 
replacement, and recommend projects and schedules within budget and 
policy constraints. As previously mentioned, the HBP affords state 
DOTs discretion in using their HBP funds, and as a result, states 
select bridge projects and use HBP funds in a variety of ways. 

Finally, HBP's fiscal sustainability remains a challenge in light of 
aging bridge infrastructure, coupled with the declining purchasing 
power of funding currently available for bridge maintenance, 
rehabilitation, and replacement. Although transportation revenues 
have, until recently, increased in nominal terms, the federal and 
state motor fuel tax rates have not kept up with inflation. As a 
result, according to federal DOT and FHWA data, the purchasing power 
in real terms of revenues generated by federal and state motor fuel 
taxes have been declining since 1990.[Footnote 20] To cover the 
shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, from fiscal years 2008 through 
2010 Congress transferred a total of $34.5 billion in additional 
revenues into the Highway Trust Fund, including $29.7 billion into the 
Highway Account. FHWA identified a bridge investment backlog of $98.9 
billion in 2006, and projected that eliminating this backlog and 
addressing future deficiencies as they arise would cost an estimated 
$17.9 billion per year (in 2006 dollars). FHWA projects that 
maintaining the backlog at its 2006 level would cost an estimated 
$11.1 billion annually. Federal funding levels provided in the most 
recent authorization were much lower than what FHWA estimated is 
necessary to maintain that backlog, although state and local 
governments provide additional funds for bridges. One tool that could 
possibly improve the sustainability of the HBP is a maintenance-of-
effort requirement. The potential substitution of federal funds for 
state and local funds under the HBP and other federal transportation 
programs may be reduced by establishing a maintenance-of-effort 
requirement, whereby state or local grantees would be required to 
maintain their own level of funding for bridges in order to receive 
federal funds. Such a requirement could discourage states and local 
governments from substituting federal support for funds they 
themselves would have spent. The Recovery Act contained a maintenance-
of-effort requirement for states and, as we reported, there have been 
some challenges implementing it. The maintenance-of-effort provision 
required DOT to invest a significant amount of time and work closely 
with the states to ensure consistency across states on how compliance 
with the act would be certified and reported. As a result, much of the 
work--such as developing compliance and oversight processes, reporting 
requirements, and identifying data for tracking purposes--has been 
done that should ensure smoother implementation of similar 
requirements.[Footnote 21] Addressing the HBP's future fiscal 
sustainability is critical, given the overall fiscal imbalance facing 
the nation and the lack of assurance that HBP funding is allocated to 
projects that are in the federal interest and provide the best return 
on investment. 

Since our 2008 report, FHWA reports that it has taken a number of 
steps to work with Congress to address our recommendations. According 
to FHWA, efforts are under way to incorporate the underlying 
principles we developed to guide the re-examination of surface 
transportation programs, such as the need for specific national goals 
and performance measures to gauge progress toward national goals, 
encouraging states to use and share best tools and practices, and 
aligning funding mechanisms to support program goals. Specifically, 
FHWA initiated a program to collect information on the states' use of 
bridge management systems and encourage states to share information 
concerning bridge management practices. According to FHWA officials, 
FHWA is continuing to work with Congress and the administration to 
ensure that HBP or other bridge funding mechanisms align funding with 
performance and support a targeted and sustainable federal program in 
the next surface transportation reauthorization cycle. Without 
addressing these issues, the fiscal sustainability of the future 
transportation program will continue to be a challenge and the impact 
of federal investments could be diminished. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be happy 
to respond to any questions that you or Members of the Subcommittee 
may have. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For further information on this statement, please contact Phillip R. 
Herr at (202) 512-2834 or herrp@gao.gov. Contact points for our 
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on 
the last page of this statement. Individuals making key contributions 
to this testimony were Heather MacLeod, Assistant Director; Jonathan 
Carver; Bert Japikse; Delwen Jones; SaraAnn Moessbauer; Josh Ormond; 
and John Stambaugh. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] States may use HBP funds for seven types of bridge-related 
activities, including replacement, rehabilitation, painting, seismic 
retrofitting, systematic preventive maintenance, installation of scour 
countermeasures (to address the effects of sediment erosion around 
bridge piers and abutments), and anti-icing or deicing activities. 

[2] GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-271] (Washington, D.C.: January 
2009). 

[3] GAO, Surface Transportation: Restructured Federal Approach Needed 
for More Focused, Performance-Based, and Sustainable Programs, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-400] (Washington, D.C.: 
Mar. 6, 2008). 

[4] These principles were developed in our earlier work on twenty-
first century challenges and were based on our institutional 
knowledge, our extensive program evaluation and performance assessment 
work for the Congress, and federal laws and regulations. See GAO, 21st 
Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-05-325SP] (Washington, 
D.C.: Feb. 1, 2005) and High-Risk Series: An Update, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-310] (Washington, D.C.: January 
2007). 

[5] GAO, Highway Bridge Program: Clearer Goals and Performance 
Measures Needed for a More Focused and Sustainable Program, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-1043] (Washington, 
D.C.: Sept. 10, 2008) and Highway Bridge Program: Clearer Goals and 
Performance Measures Needed for a More Focused and Sustainable 
Program, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-1127T] 
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 10, 2008). 

[6] The NBIP and the HBP generally apply to both Federal-aid highway 
and non-Federal-aid highway bridges located on public roads. The NBIP 
standards do not apply to pedestrian or railroad bridges, bridges on 
private roads, or tunnels. FHWA encourages states to require private 
organizations to inspect privately owned bridges according to those 
standards. States are not responsible for the inspection of bridges 
owned by federal agencies. 

[7] In January 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) 
Inspector General reported on inconsistencies in FHWA's enforcement of 
bridge inspection standards and found that FHWA has little assurance 
that states receiving Federal-aid highway funds comply with bridge 
inspection standards. See DOT Inspector General, Assessment of FHWA 
Oversight of the Highway Bridge Program and the National Bridge 
Inspection Program, MH-2010-039 (Washington, D.C., Jan. 14, 2010). 

[8] For purposes of counting, functionally obsolete bridges that are 
also structurally deficient are recorded in the NBI as structurally 
deficient. 

[9] Bridges that are newly constructed, have been replaced, or had 
major rehabilitation within the past 10 years are also not eligible. 
This is referred to as the "10-year rule." 

[10] Non-Federal-aid highway bridges are generally located on local or 
rural roads that carry lower volumes of traffic. 

[11] The majority of Federal-aid highway infrastructure funding is 
distributed through seven major programs, often referred to as core 
highway programs. These programs are the National Highway System 
Program, Surface Transportation Program, Interstate Maintenance 
Program, HBP, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement 
Program, Highway Safety Improvement Program, and the Equity Bonus 
Program. 

[12] The federal share for bridge projects on the Interstate System is 
90 percent. 

[13] GAO, Recovery Act: States' Use of Highway and Transit Funds and 
Efforts to Meet the Act's Requirements, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-312T] (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 10, 
2009) and Recovery Act: States' and Localities' Uses of Funds and 
Actions Needed to Address Implementation Challenges and Bolster 
Accountability, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-604] 
(Washington, D.C.: May 26, 2010). 

[14] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-1043]. 

[15] GAO, Federal-Aid Highways: Trends, Effect on State Spending, and 
Options For Future Program Design, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-04-802] (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 31, 
2004). 

[16] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-604]. 

[17] See [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-1043]. The age 
of a bridge is based on the number of years since it was built or 
reconstructed. 

[18] DOT's Inspector General found that FHWA can not link expenditures 
of HBP funds to improvements made to deficient bridges and recommended 
that FHWA develop a data-driven, risk-based approach to bridge 
oversight to strengthen its oversight of states' use of HBP funding. 
DOT Inspector General, National Bridge Inspection Program: Assessment 
of FHWA's Implementation of Data-Driven, Risk-Based Oversight, MH-2009-
013 (Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2009). 

[19] Mega-bridge projects are projects with an estimated total cost 
greater than $500 million. 

[20] GAO, Surface Transportation: Strategies Are Available for Making 
Existing Road Infrastructure Perform Better, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-07-920] (Washington, D.C.: July 26, 
2007). 

[21] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-604]. 

[End of section] 

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