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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Box B. Structurally Deficient and Obsolete Bridges as Defined by the FHWA

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Box B. Structurally Deficient and Obsolete Bridges as Defined by the FHWA

Bridges are considered structurally deficient if significant load-carrying elements are found to be in poor or worse condition due to deterioration and/or damage, or the adequacy of the waterway opening provided by the bridge is determined to be extremely insufficient to the point of causing intolerable traffic interruptions. The fact that a bridge is "deficient" does not immediately imply that it is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe. With hands-on inspection, unsafe conditions may be identified and, if the bridge is determined to be unsafe, the structure must be closed. A "deficient" bridge, when left open to traffic, typically requires significant maintenance and repair to remain in service and eventual rehabilitation or replacement to address deficiencies. To remain in service, structurally deficient bridges are often posted with weight limits to restrict the gross weight of vehicles using the bridges to less than the maximum weight typically allowed by statute.

Functional obsolescence is a function of the geometrics of the bridge in relation to the geometrics required by current design standards. While structural deficiencies are generally the result of deterioration of the conditions of the bridge components, functional obsolescence results from changing traffic demands on the structure. Facilities, including bridges, are designed to conform to the design standards in place at the time they are designed. Over time, improvements are made to the design requirements. As an example, a bridge designed in the 1930s would have shoulder widths in conformance with the design standards of the 1930s. However, the design standards have changed since the 1930s. Therefore, current design standards are based on different criteria and require wider bridge shoulders to meet current safety standards. The difference between the required, current-day shoulder width and the 1930s designed shoulder width represents a deficiency. The magnitude of these types of deficiencies determines whether the existing conditions cause the bridge to be classified as functionally obsolete.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 2006 Status of the Nation’s Highway, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance, pp. 3-14, 3-15.