Washington's Department of Transportation does a poor job of estimating the costs of maintaining the state's bridges, according to a preliminary report from the staff of the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee, a bipartisan House-Senate committee that examines many matters. The committee received the preliminary report on Wednesday; the final report is due in January.
The draft report found that the transportation department does an excellent job of estimating costs for maintaining and replacing pavement on 20,679 lane-miles of highways. The report also tentatively concluded that WSDOT does a poor job of estimating the cost of maintaining the state's 3,794 bridges and of scheduling repair work.
The JLARC staff told the committee that the department has no good computer models to predict how fast bridges will likely deteriorate to the point of needing maintenance or to determine how long a bridge can be cost-effectively maintained. The department does not have industry guidelines for the best available practices on bridge maintenance and replacement, nor does it have a good program to study the risks of manmade problems, such as the truck driver whose rig struck the Skagit River I-5 Bridge in 2013, causing a span to collapse into the water.
The JLARC staff said it will take years to find and phase in the computer models that can render the transportation department capable of properly estimating bridge costs. The staff did, however, pronounce the transportation department's inspection data system on the safety of Washington's bridges in excellent shape.
Deputy Transportation Secretary Cam Gilmour said the department will provide a written response to the JLARC findings early next year. WSDOT has already been looking at this situation. "We want estimates that the public has confidence in," Gilmour said, who noted that the state counts 23 different types of bridges with up to 17 types of components. All of which creates numerous cost analysis permutations.