WisDOT: Bridges, inspections have improved since 2001 audit
Published: September 19, 2007
Madison – The condition of Wisconsin’s bridges has improved dramatically since a critical state audit in 2001, Department of Transportation officials told lawmakers Monday.
WisDOT officials said they have cut the number of state-owned bridges considered structurally deficient in half in the last six years.
Workers have also inspected nearly all of the state bridges within the last two years as required by law, officials told the Legislature’s Audit Committee.
Lawmakers asked for Monday’s briefing after the Aug. 1 collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis.
Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, is pushing for a new audit of the bridge inspection program. But the department and other lawmakers said the program’s improvements mean no major review is needed.
The 2001 audit found that a relatively high number of state-owned bridges were in poor shape and that WisDOT inspectors were failing to inspect many bridges on time. The audit also said the agency failed to track expenses in the program and did not have current traffic figures for many bridges.
WisDOT official Kevin Chesnik told lawmakers the agency took actions to respond to the audit.
“As a result, the Wisconsin bridge program is in much better shape than it was in 2001,” he said.
Aftermath of Hoan
Lawmakers ordered the 2001 audit after Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge partially collapsed the year before as a result of a flawed design, freezing temperatures and heavy traffic.
Since then, Chesnik said the number of state-owned bridges classified as structurally deficient has declined to 4 percent from 8.8 percent. That classification means the bridges need repairs but aren’t necessarily unsafe, he said.
All but a handful of the state’s 13,654 bridges have been inspected within the last two years as required, Chesnik added. The 2001 audit found that 16 percent of them were not inspected within that timeframe.
WisDOT officials said a new computer database that contains inspection reports and other information has helped them make sure bridges are inspected on time.
Cowles said he was surprised by the progress but wanted the Legislative Audit Bureau to review the program’s effectiveness anyway.
“I would like to see more certainty that all of these things really did happen,” he told WisDOT officials. “I don’t want to question your integrity, but the old saying is ‘Trust but verify’.”
Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, said WisDOT has an impressive bridge inspection program — but so did Minnesota.
“It only takes one and this is the tough part about your job,” he said. “You are being asked to protect us against random, tragic accidents.”