FHWA Proposes Inspection Standards for Highway Tunnels

It has added some additional items to its NPRM issued three years ago in response to the latest federal transportation funding law.

The Federal Highway Administration is issuing a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking that lays out the proposed National Tunnel Inspection Standards for highway tunnels on all public roads, including tribally and federally owned ones. While FHWA had proposed standards for this in July 2010, these new ones are revised in light of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) federal transportation funding law signed last summer. It requires the U.S. secretary of Transportation to establish national standards for tunnel inspections.

A national tunnel inventory will be created, and regular, routine inspections of highway tunnels, with a minimum frequency of 24 months, will be required. Required training and a national certification program for tunnel inspectors also are included.

Section 650.509 of the standards says a tunnel inspection program manager must, at a minimum, be a registered Professional Engineer, have 10 years of tunnel or bridge inspection experience, and be a nationally certified tunnel inspector. The team leader would be a registered P.E. and a nationally certified tunnel inspector.

Tunnel owners would be required to notify FHWA within 24 hours of identifying a critical finding and what actions they are taking to resolve or monitor that finding.

FHWA admits in its published document that it has limited data on the number of highway tunnels in the nation, the frequencies at which they are inspected, and the costs associated with the inspections. "The FHWA expects that the overall increase in tunnel inspection costs across the Nation will be modest, as the vast majority of tunnel owners already inspect at the 24-month interval required by the NTIS," it states. "The FHWA does not have any information regarding the cost of fixing critical findings that are uncovered as a result of provisions in this rulemaking. Based on current data, only two tunnel owners, that together own 15 tunnels (bores), would be required to increase their current inspection frequency as a result of the requirements proposed in this SNPRM."

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