A conversation with Raj Ailaney, Chair of FHWA BPETG

Raj Ailaney, chair of the FHWA BPETG

Author: Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Raj Ailaney is the chair of the Bridge Preservation Expert Task Group (BPETG) that gathers more than 20 people representing FHWA, TSP2 BPP, AASHTO, TRB, academia and industry. I contacted Raj to know more about the goals and the activity of this group that puts together such an unmatched depth of bridge preservation knowledge and expertise.

Could you introduce yourself? What is your education? What are the key points of your professional career?

I am a Senior Bridge Preservation Engineer with the Office of Bridges and Structures, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Headquarters in Washington, DC. In this position, I develop guidance and policies for preservation of bridges in support of FHWA’s performance-based program to maintain a state of good repair.

I’ve been with FHWA since 2003 and in my current position since early 2016. Prior to this position, I was an Acting Senior Advisor to the Associate Administrator of Office of Infrastructure. In that position, I provided support and guidance to the FHWA leadership on program and policy issues having national, regulatory, and legislative implications. Before joining FHWA, I was a Project Director with a Consulting Engineering firm in Northern Virginia, where I managed design, construction and inspection of bridge projects for various State Department of Transportation agencies.

I’m a 1984 graduate and holds a Masters in Structural Engineering from University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m a licensed Professional Engineer in Virginia and Maryland.

What are the core elements of the BPETG mission?

The mission of BPETG is to advance and improve the state of the practice in the area of highway bridge preservation. We continue to work collaboratively with the States, four AASHTO TSP2 regional bridge preservation partnerships, TRB, industry and academia in developing products to promote bridge preservation.

Who are BPETG members? How is the activity of the group organized?

When I became the Chair in early 2016, I reorganized the membership for national outreach and focused on developing the strategic plan.  I created membership based on positions rather than specific individuals. For example, the current members include the chair, or their representatives, from four AASHTO TSP2 Regional Bridge Preservation Partnerships; chairs of three TRB Standing Committees on Bridge Preservation (AHD-37), Bridge Management (AHD-35), and Structure Maintenance (AHD-30); and representatives from the AASHTO Committee on Bridges and Structures (COBS) technical committees on Bridge Preservation (T-9) and Bridge Management, Evaluation, and Rehabilitation (T-18) and Bridge Technical Working Group, Committee on Maintenance (COM). In addition, we have members from academia and industry to get a full breadth of the preservation expertise.

Leadership of the BPETG is provided by FHWA with a co-chair position filled by a state DOT member either from AASHTO COBS or COM on a rotating two-year term basis. Members from academia and industry are appointed for three-year terms by the chair, with a possible reappointment.

Through this forum, FHWA solicits input from individual participants but does not intend to establish or utilize the BPETG as an advisory group in the interest of obtaining advice and recommendations under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Decisions by the BPETG are not binding on the FHWA.

BPETG holds monthly virtual meetings via web and one face-to-face meeting per year.

What are BPETG goals and Strategic Objectives?

BPETG identified four Strategic Objectives:

  1. Provide guidance on cost-effective bridge preservation strategies
  2. Promote bridge preservation as a component of asset and performance management
  3. Advise and assist in developing educational materials on bridge preservation
  4. Foster a collaborative environment that encourages research and innovation

Under each Strategic Objective, we have several actions that we are trying to accomplish.

Preventive maintenance (PM) activities are essential for bridge preservation. How has the use of federal funds for PM evolved over years?

Use of Federal funds for preventive maintenance (PM) activities on Interstate highways was initially authorized in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.  Subsequently, the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 amended Section 116 of Title 23 U.S.C by extending PM activities eligible for Federal-aid highway. After each act, FHWA issued appropriate guidance to the states advising them of this eligibility. Specifically, in 2002, FHWA advised the use of Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (HBRRP) funds on PM activities for Federal-aid highway using systematic process.

In 2008, the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) Technical Correction Bill changed HBRRP to the Highway Bridge Program (HBP) and added systematic PM as an eligible activity. Bridge owners have taken advantage of the flexibilities in the HBP and have maintained their inventory in good to fair condition under constrained resources.

I understand that the new Bridge Preservation Guide is part of the Strategic Objectives. Could you comment about it?

The original Bridge Preservation Guide was published by FHWA in August 2011, when SAFETEA-LU was in effect and bridge repair and rehabilitation activities were funded by the Highway Bridge Program. This guide identified a “systematic process” as an eligibility of preventative maintenance (PM) actions for Federal aid funds. As a result, several Divisions signed agreements with their states as part of the stewardship and oversight agreements. These activities were not consistent among the Divisions.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act allowed preservation activities to be eligible and there was a need to update the guidance and come up with a comprehensive list of PM activities for consistency throughout the country. Also, routine maintenance was never defined for bridges and what activities qualify as routine that are not eligible for Federal funds. The new guide that we released earlier this year (Ed Note:see linkage) provides those example activities as well. In addition, it provides guidance on how to establish a bridge preservation program if an agency desires to build one.

What are the other actions/programs that are being developed?

We are developing a series of pocket guides that will provide a focus on construction quality. Some of the topics that are currently being developed are: Thin Polymer Overlay Systems; Small Movement Bridge Expansion Joints; Bridge Cleaning; and Removal and Replacement of Bridge Coatings.

These guides are designed to address common errors and best practices to aid in preventing failures related to proper selection and application procedures. They are also expected to:

  • provide proper installation/repair guidelines;
  • provide a check-list for equipment and tools needed;
  • identify limitations and restrictions including regional climates, traffic, and storage; and,
  • identify potential failure mechanisms and how to avoid them.

The pocket guides will be electronic, posted on the TSP2 website, and will also be accessible via iOS and Android App. We hope to post the Thin Polymer Overlay Guide by November, and others are being reviewed by the group.

Another action item that we are currently working on is the “Deck Preservation Portal.” This project initiated from an original idea of developing a Transportation Asset Preservation Portal. The goal is to establish a web portal for repository of proven preservation actions to maintain bridges in good and fair condition. After discussions with BPETG members, it was decided to first develop a proof of concept focusing just on concrete bridge decks. The Deck Preservation Portal will be organized by component defect, cause, feasible actions, and cost information. FHWA is supporting the development and Iowa DOT is leading the project. We have formed a Technical Advisory Committee to lead this effort and plan to complete the project by fall 2020. The outcome of this project will be rolled into a pooled-fund project to develop the Transportation Asset Preservation Portal.

We are also working on providing guidance to bridge owners in the formation, execution, and evaluation of bridge preservation programs so as to meet their unique needs. FHWA has contracted with the University of Colorado to “Determine Agency Rules for Bridge Preservation: Developing a Decision Methodology.” The objectives of this project are to: 1) Compile the existing rules used by state DOTs, and 2) Develop a method for formation of decision rules for bridge preservation. This guidance appears to be essential for owners to reach MAP-21 and FAST Act requirements for maintaining infrastructures in a state of good repair at minimum cost. Bridges are complex structures with interdependent components for which a strategic use of bridge preservation actions is required.

The BPETG strategic plan that we developed in 2016 is almost three years old. As we continue to complete action items that we initially identified, we are also in discussions to update this plan to meet the current needs.


FHWA 2018 Bridge Preservation Webpage


FHWA 2018 Bridge Preservation Guide


1 thought on “A conversation with Raj Ailaney, Chair of FHWA BPETG

  1. Outstanding article and information. Raj is leading a great preservation program and we appreciate the direction and products!

Leave a Reply to Bill Oliva Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *