Public sector risk managers are under increasing pressure to assess infrastructure exposures.
The Federal Highway Administration says it will cost $76 billion to fix aged bridges by 2028. Couple that with the fact that the federal Highway Trust Fund is projected to be bankrupt in a year.
The plunge of three people into icy waters after a bridge collapsed in Washington state May 23 was the latest wake-up call to the country's public entities. The three were rescued from the water with minor injuries.
Many public sector risk managers work with engineers and regulatory authorities to establish priorities for bridge maintenance, said Ron Graybeal, managing director, national public sector practice leader at Beecher Carlson in Portland, Ore.
Risk managers are also involved in risk finance options, which include self-insurance, placing insurance or a combination of the two.
"We suggest that our customers insure higher excess limit layers to help fund for catastrophic events," Graybeal said.
The Interstate 5 bridge that failed and hurled two cars and three people into the icy Skagit River in Washington state was built in 1955, and had been classified in the National Bridge Inventory Database as "functionally obsolete," meaning it no longer met current standards.
Even worse off are the one in nine bridges nationally that are classified as "structurally deficient," which means that the structure has one or more defects that need immediate attention.
"Public entities need to spend time identifying where these structures are in the transportation network, because they might be in areas where there are no other adequate roads to divert traffic to if they fail," said Kent LaRose, a principal bridge engineer at Morrison Hershfield in Burnaby, B.C.
Priority for fixing unsound bridges should go to those needed during national disasters and for those used by the military, LaRose said.
Graybeal said that "most major property carriers are reluctant to insure these bridges, but there are select carriers who do provide coverage on a 'loss limit' basis."
September 15, 2013
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