BATON ROUGE, La. — The Louisiana agency responsible for ensuring the state's bridges are safe isn't inspecting spans as often as required by federal guidelines, according to an audit released Monday.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office said the state Department of Transportation and Development was fully compliant with only 39 percent of the federal performance measures for bridge inspections.
For the remaining 61 percent of items on the list, the agency was deemed only conditionally compliant or substantially compliant, meaning more work was required, the review says. The shortfalls come mainly in doing the number and type of inspections that are expected under the federal guidelines.
DOTD didn't inspect or couldn't prove it had inspected 16 percent of the bridges required during the time frame reviewed by auditors. At least 324 bridges were five months or more late in their inspection, according to the audit.
The department also didn't meet federal guidelines for identifying all bridges that required a load rating to limit the carrying capacity of vehicles that can cross or the requirements for assuring that problems identified with bridges were addressed quickly, the audit says.
In a written response, Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas noted the state wasn't deemed non-compliant on any bridge inspection benchmarks, but rather fell short of full compliance. She said the department has federally approved plans to address all the areas where it is deemed to need improvement.
"In order to continue to improve our bridge inspection program, additional personnel have been added to each district. In most cases, each district has added one additional team giving them 25 percent to 33 percent additional capacity," LeBas wrote.
Meanwhile, the number of Louisiana's bridges that are deemed structurally deficient by federal standards continues to grow, increasing from 1,712 in 2009 to 1,806 by 2013, auditors said. That's 14 percent of the state's 12,905 bridges.
The state maintains 751 of the bridges that are considered deficient, while the rest are largely maintained by local governments.
"Louisiana has a backlog of $2.7 billion in bridge maintenance and construction projects primarily consisting of structurally deficient bridges. Because of the limited funding available to address all of the bridges in the backlog, DOTD has been unable to significantly reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges," the audit says.
LeBas said her agency prioritizes its bridge funding to address the bridges that are considered most in need of immediate maintenance or improvements and that are on high-traffic routes.
"If a bridge is found to be unsafe, DOTD has the authority to and will close it until repairs are made," she wrote.
States that don't follow the bridge inspection guidelines from the Federal Highway Administration can lose federal money for bridge repair, replacement or maintenance work, according to the audit. DOTD says it hasn't ever lost federal funding because of non-compliance with the guidelines.
Online: The audit is available at: http://1.usa.gov/1lFGwe5