By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC
The Local Agency Outreach TSP2 Working Group has developed a new program, the Bridge Preservation Training for local Agencies, whose main points are reported in the “Low-Cost Maintenance to Save Bridges” flier. The flier, which is published on the TSP2 web site, can be found on the Local Agency Outreach Working Group page, following the link: “Local Agency Outreach Introduction White Paper”.
The new program is in line with one of the strategic goals of TSP2 that entails extending the use of bridge preservation practices from DOTs to local Agencies, such as Cities, Counties and Municipalities. In order to learn more about the program, I spoke with Gregg Freeman, Director of Business Development with Kwik Bond Polymers and chair of the Working Group, and with Travis Kinney, Major Bridge Maintenance Engineer with Oregon DOT, co-chair of the Working Group, and project leader. I also contacted Pat Conner with Indiana LTAP for information concerning this State.
How was this new program formulated?
Travis Kinney – The TSP2 Partnership recognized that the local Agencies did not have enough presence and influence in the Bridge Preservation Partnership group. I do not mean to say that there are not active members from local Agencies in TSP2, but their number and their level of influence is not proportional to the amount of bridge inventory they manage. As a consequence, a TSP2 Working Group was developed to look at ways to improve the outreach to local bridge owners with the goal to educate them about the benefits of preservation practices. Setting up a bridge maintenance training for local Agencies was an idea that spawned naturally out of this effort.
The Local Agency Outreach Working Group has progressed to include great participation from a wide range of local Agencies. This participation has helped the group in many respects including the design of ways to advertise training opportunities. These encompass advertising the activity of the Working Group in the National Local Technical Assistance Program Association (NLTAPA) (see LINKS) newsletters, the creation of a flier, and even a poster-board to be displayed at the national LTAP conference, which unfortunately was canceled because of COVID-19.
What is the purpose of the program?
Gregg Freeman – We aim to educate local Agency managers on the benefits of preservation versus replacement of bridges. Preservation is a proven methodology that saves taxpayers’ money over the long term. At this point, there isn’t nearly enough money available to replace bridges that are in “poor” condition. Preservation is the only methodology to be considered in order to close the gap.
What are the key elements of the program?
Gregg Freeman – A strict collaboration with LTAP people is essential in order to implement our process of soliciting local Agencies to adopt bridge preservation practices. We thought that a simple and effective way to initiate this collaboration was to create a non-proprietary presentation, titled “Bridge Preservation For Local Agencies”.
This presentation, which was the first output of our TSP2 Working Group, is intended to be given as part of the “Lunch & Learn” LTAP training program throughout the US. The intent of the presentation is to underscore the importance of a pro-active bridge preservation approach, summarized in the “Keep Good Bridges Good” mantra, as opposed to a reactive “Worst First” methodology that should not be the focal point of any asset management plan.
Travis Kinney – The Working Group is now focused on identifying barriers that prevent obtaining funds for preservation at local levels. As a result of this effort, the group identified that federal funds are rarely used at local levels for preservation activities. Replacement and major rehabilitation tend to be favored in existing projects’ selection processes. In addition, state funding tends to favor the “Worst-First” approach.
Another key initiative of the Working Group that has just started entails the review of asset management plans by local Agencies in order to determine whether they create a framework that favors replacement instead of preservation practices.
Who is the target audience of the “Bridge Preservation For Local Agencies” presentation?
Gregg Freeman – It is a large target audience. It includes Cities, Counties, Municipalities, Tribal Agencies and every group involved with educating local Agencies, such as LTAP, NACE, FHWA, State DOT’s and AASHTO.
Has this presentation already been given?
Travis Kinney – The presentation is ready to be given and is being advertised through the NLTAPA Working Group members. In April of this year, I gave a trial run of the presentation virtually to over 30 LTAP representatives. The presentation was well received and the Working Group has gained interest in setting up virtual training opportunities.
Can you tell me more about the issue concerning access to federal funds?
Travis Kinney – As I mentioned earlier, how to get access to federal funds for preservation is a point of key interest for local Agencies.
We had reached out to our contacts at TSP2 for good examples of funding for local Agencies, specifically for preservation. When they told us that they had a hard time finding these examples, we started working with the Bridge Preservation Expert Task Group (BPETG) from FHWA (see LINKS) so as to establish a study, or a survey, that can be valid on the national scale. This is being framed out. The key question that we would like to have answered through the collaboration with BPETG entails barriers for getting funds down from federal to local level for preservation. The best funding example we have found so far entails the state of Indiana, which has done a great job of promoting preservation at the local level.
Pat Conner – The Indiana transportation funding system encourages preservation through different avenues, such as the use of revenue from the gas tax that is distributed to locals, a new state funded matching grant fund, and obviously locally generated funds. The Indiana model is however difficult to duplicate in other states because most of the funds used for preservation are funded locally or from state generated funding. In Indiana federal funding is not currently being utilized for preservation.
Indiana has the Motor Vehicle Highway Account, which is heavily funded through gas and diesel taxes. Local Agencies are required to spend at least 50% of this account toward construction, reconstruction, and preservation. Indiana also has a matching grant fund for local Agencies that is funded through vehicle registrations and a portion of the gas tax. In order to get access to this fund, local Agencies are required to have an asset management plan in place. Between the funding availability for preservation, the asset management requirements, and the training being provided for asset management by LTAP, Indiana is the forefront of creating a culture that encourages local Agencies to re-look at their project priorities and preferred practices.
Gregg Freeman – In some cases, bridge preservation is still being confused with major rehabilitation and replacement. One of the first examples of federal funding for local Agencies we received from FHWA was under the banner of bridge preservation but it actually involved major rehabilitation and replacement. It did not entail preservation, as it is defined by AASHTO TSP2 as “actions or strategies that prevent, delay or reduce deterioration of bridges or bridge elements, restore the function of existing bridges, keep bridges in good condition and extend their life”.
Could you share details about the current state of the program’s implementation?
Gregg Freeman – Travis gave a webinar organized by the National LTAP that was attended by 30 people. I had the opportunity to give a preliminary version of the “Bridge Preservation For Local Agencies” presentation at the annual county bridge conference organized by Indiana LTAP at Purdue University on October 29 and 30, 2019. I was invited by Pat Conner, who has been instrumental in creating such a good training program for local Agencies in Indiana.
Travis Kinney – We have had tremendous support for doing more in-person presentations. North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois had all reached out to our Working Group because of their interest in the program. This was in early March. Since then in-person training has been put on hold due to the COVID restrictions. We are now shifting gears and looking at virtual training opportunities to sustain the Working Group’s momentum.
The training comes at no cost for those attending. Who pays for it?
Gregg Freeman – When in-person meetings can be organized again, we are counting on the collaboration of volunteers from the local LTAPs, local FHWA, State DOTs and industry.
Primarily we are looking for industry folks who volunteer as presenters, preferably with a partner from a State DOT. We already have a list of potential industry presenters. We are relying on LTAP to help set up the meetings and provide a venue. Alternatively, the venue can be provided by State DOTs that participate in the program. The FHWA BPETG is also supporting this effort.
Travis Kinney – With virtual meetings the organization process could be simplified. However, at this point, organizing virtual meetings on a national scale is a work-in-progress with a number of pieces to be defined.