WISCONSINREPORT.COM (02/27/08) - The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has released its review of the bridge inspection program administered by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT). Democratic State Senator Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa and Republican Assembly Representative Suzanne Jeskewitz of Menomonee Falls authorized the review after conducting a public hearing on bridge safety in September 2007. Sullivan and Jeskewitz are co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC). The report indicates the condition of state-owned bridges have improved.
In its review, LAB found that DOT spent approximately 2.3 million to inspect Wisconsin's 5,188 state-owned bridges in fiscal year 2006-07. In general, LAB found that the condition of state-owned bridges has improved in recent years.
The percentage of state-owned bridges that are structurally deficient declined from 7.4 percent in 2002 to 4.2 percent in 2007, when there were 219 such bridges statewide. In 2006, Wisconsin had the second-lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges among seven midwestern states and the sixteenth-lowest percentage nationwide.
However, LAB notes that, as of November 2007, there were 34 state-owned bridges over 80 years old, which exceeds the typical 75-year life span of bridges.
LAB also found that the timeliness of DOT’s bridge inspections has improved since the last comprehensive evaluation of the program in 2001 (report 01-17). DOT completed 98.1 percent of routine inspections on time between January 2003 and November 2007.
During this period, 98.9 percent of routine inspections conducted on structurally deficient bridges were completed within the 24-month interval required by federal and state laws.
Wisconsin currently has 14 deck truss bridges that are structurally similar to the I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in August 2007. LAB reviewed DOT’s inspection data for these bridges and found that all of the routine inspections were completed within the required 24-month intervals from January 2003 through November 2007.
“With the tragic events that unfolded in Minnesota last year, I am grateful to see that the Department of Transportation is taking bridge inspection very seriously,” said Co-chair Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa).
“They have a near perfect record in completing inspections on time, and they are to be commended for that. We need to ensure that we maintain our roads and bridges across the state, as well as continuing on-time inspection of our existing bridges,” Sullivan said.
In its 2001 evaluation, LAB indicated that DOT could develop procedures to monitor and document work completed by counties on state-owned bridges. To date, it has not done so. Therefore, LAB recommends that DOT develop policies and procedures to better track the type and cost of routine bridge maintenance work performed by counties.
“I want to applaud the DOT for improving bridge inspection timeliness since the last audit report,” said Co-chair Sue Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls).
“However, I am disappointed that they still have not developed procedures to monitor and document work completed by counties, which is why follow-up on audits is so important for the JLAC to monitor and I hope that the DOT will follow through with this audit recommendation,” Jeskewitz added.