The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has proposed to save taxpayers money and speed the time it takes to replace or repair bridges by doing away with individual historic preservation reviews for common bridge types, built after 1945, that will soon need repair or replacement.
Before older bridges can be repaired or replaced, they must undergo an individual historic preservation review. FHWA has identified approximately 196,000 bridges that are old but not historic and could be exempt from individual review by substituting a programmatic review, including mitigation—streamlining a process that would save taxpayers roughly $78 million in project funds over the next 10 years that would otherwise have gone toward the individual reviews.
“This approach is in line with President Obama’s initiative to promote innovative business practices in order to save time and money,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Not only are we working to save taxpayer money by eliminating unnecessary burdensome reviews, we are redirecting energy and resources where they need to be to rebuild the economy and create jobs.”
Typically built with reinforced concrete and steel, common bridges are highly standardized in design and character and have little historical value. However, they often serve a critical function for the traveling public. The ones built between 1946 and 1970 make up the bulk of bridges currently in need of repair or replacement nationwide.
“The streamlined process will accelerate project delivery so drivers can see results sooner,” FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez said. “This is an innovative yet commonsense approach that is all about saving time and money and making transportation improvements happen more quickly.”
In accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, FHWA proposes a “program comment,” or program-wide, approach that allows a single review to exempt the 196,026 bridges from individual, and often repetitive, reviews of each action affecting a bridge. Bridges with distinct historical, architectural or engineering features will not be exempt from individual historic preservation reviews.
FHWA developed the program comment approach in coordination with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials.
A notice published in the Federal Register seeks comments from the public on the proposal.