U.S. Bridge Corrosion Prevention Bill a Positive Step for AMPP

Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in January 2022. Photo courtesy of NTSB.

The Senate calls its version S. 1932. In the House, it’s known as HR 4064. AMPP Vice Chairman Paul Vinik calls it good news, both for the association and its members and for the nation.

Both houses of Congress call their newly introduced bills the Bridge Corrosion Prevention and Repair Act of 2023. The legislation would require corrosion planning and the use of qualified and trained professionals on all bridge construction, repair, and maintenance projects throughout the country. 

“The bill is absolutely a good thing for AMPP, no question about it,” Vinik says. “There’s a twofold need for corrosion expertise in the bridge industry and in the transportation industry. One is economics. The states are spending an inordinate amount of money to replace bridge decks every year. The worse you let a structure get, the more costly it is to repair. The second is safety.”

The impetus behind both bills, at least in part, is the January 28, 2022, collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh. The bridge dropped more than 100 feet (30.5 m) early that morning, taking several vehicles and a Port Authority bus along with it. Ten people were injured, though remarkably none died. 

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators found issues with drainage, debris accumulation, and corrosion on the Fern Hollow Bridge, which has since been rebuilt.

“As we saw in Pennsylvania, corrosion gets to the point where it does affect structural integrity and can risk lives,” Vinik says.

President Joe Biden happened to be in Pittsburgh the day of the bridge collapse, touting a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, which is separate from the bridge corrosion bill. “We’ve got to move,” the president said at the time. “The next time, we don’t need headlines saying that someone was killed when the next bridge collapses.”

Bill Details

Percent of bridges needing repair. Green, < 10; yellow, 10-20; red, >20

The bill’s Senate sponsors are Bob Casey (D-PA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), while in the House it is sponsored by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). In June, the Senate bill was read and referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The House version has been referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

“The Fern Hollow Bridge collapse underscored the importance of taking corrosion prevention seriously,” Casey says in a release provided by his office. “We need strong federal standards to make sure that we are using properly trained workers and leveraging existing expertise when performing this vital work on our nation’s bridges.”

The legislation comes at a time when 82,847 of the nation’s 629,683 bridges – 13.16% – need repair or corrective action, according to information on data.news-press.com that Vinik cited (see Figure 1). Pennsylvania’s bridges are near that national average at 13.52%, while in West Virginia and Iowa, almost 1 in 5 bridges are rated structurally deficient.

The Bridge Corrosion Prevention and Repair Act would:

  • Require all entities receiving federal transportation or transit funding to use qualified contractors and industry-recognized standards whenever performing corrosion control work. This would include work on highway bridges, off-system or locally owned bridges, and rail bridges. 
  • Require the development and implementation of a comprehensive corrosion control plan for individual projects. This would help ensure that work is done by properly trained professionals using proven methods that will increase the safety and longevity of our bridges.  
  • Direct the Federal Highway Administration to perform a study on the efficacy and best practices for maintaining weathering steel, a special type of steel that is manufactured to be more corrosion-resistant but can still corrode under certain conditions. This section is in line with recommendations from the NTSB during its investigation into the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge, which was constructed with weathering steel.

AMPP Endorsement

Vinik notes that 38 of the nation’s state highway agencies already require AMPP certification for their contractors. He says projects such as bridge work need excellent cooperation between structural engineers and corrosion professionals.

“Otherwise, you do not get a good evaluation of the structure,” Vinik says. “The structural engineer has no idea about corrosion, and the corrosion engineer is not qualified to tell you whether structural integrity is going to jeopardize the structure.”

Vinik, who holds AMPP CP1 and CP2 cathodic protection certifications, is a corrosion protection manager for the engineering consulting firm Greenman-Pedersen Inc. (GPI). He spent the previous 12 years as a chemical materials and structural materials engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation. He will become AMPP board chairman in January 2024.

“That corrosion expert can go in and say, ‘Hey, that crack is caused by spalling of your rebar. And these potentials indicate that your rebar is corroded.’ But the structural engineer is needed to tell you that crack compromises 35% of our concrete. And the bridge is no longer structurally meeting its intention. If it’s rated for 80,000 pounds [36,287.4 kg], and that crack took 30%, they’ve got to downgrade the load capacity of the bridge, and now they rate the bridge deficient.”

The White House cited AMPP’s endorsement of the bill in its announcement, and AMPP endorses the legislation. 

AMPP CEO Alan Thomas thanked the bill’s sponsors and adds, “We believe establishing industry standards and using high-quality materials, along with the certification of contractors and skilled craftworkers, and the engagement of competent inspection companies, is essential for ensuring effective corrosion protection in bridge projects funded by the federal government.”

Close-up of a corroded bridge support beam.

Separate From the Infrastructure Act

The bridge corrosion protection bill is separate from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which President Biden signed November 15, 2021. According to the White House, it will:

  • Deliver clean water to all American families, and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines. 
  • Ensure every American has access to reliable high-speed internet.  
  • Repair and rebuild roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users.  
  • Improve transportation options for millions of Americans, and reduce greenhouse emissions through the largest investment in public transit in U.S. history. 
  • Upgrade the nation’s airports and ports to strengthen supply chains and prevent disruptions that have caused inflation. 
  • Make the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak. 
  • Build a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers. 
  • Upgrade the power infrastructure to deliver clean, reliable energy across the country, and deploy cutting-edge energy technology to achieve a zero-emissions future. 
  • Make our infrastructure resilient against the impacts of climate change, cyber attacks, and extreme weather events. 
  • Deliver the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history by cleaning up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaiming abandoned mines, and capping orphaned oil and gas wells. 

Contact Your Legislators

Rep. Garamendi touted the benefits of the bridge corrosion bill’s professionally trained contractor provision. “America’s corrosion professionals and union painters are ready, willing, and able to do the job, especially those who have completed federally registered apprenticeship programs,” he says in a news release. “I am thrilled to work with my colleagues to pass this critically important legislation.”

Rep. Fitzpatrick noted in the release that in 2021, the nation’s Infrastructure Report Card rated the bridges in Pennsylvania with a D+ grade and the bridges across the nation with a C grade.

“I am proud to lead the bipartisan, bicameral Bridge Corrosion Prevention and Repair Act, which will ensure that the standards are raised, structural conditions are improved, and communities are made safer,” Rep. Fitzpatrick says.

Similar legislation in 2022 was lost in the shuffle of midterm elections.

Vinik notes that the current House bill currently has only four cosponsors—Rep. Fitzpatrick, Rep. Christopher Deluzio of Pennsylvania, Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes of Ohio, and Rep. Julia Brownley of California, while Sen. Stabenow is the sole Senate cosponsor. Vinik encourages AMPP members to contact their senators and representatives to advocate for passage of the bridge corrosion bill.

Source: AMPP, www.ampp.org.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the October 2023 print issue of Materials Performance (MP) Magazine. Reprinted with permission.  

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