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Alteration of Bridges

Hazardous bridge alteration, repair and removal

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, Congress appropriated to the Coast Guard (an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) an additional $142 million for the Coast Guard’s share of the cost of altering or removing bridges obstructive to navigation under the federal Alteration of Bridges program. Alternate bridges

The U.S. government considers all bridges to be obstructions to navigation and they are tolerated only as long as they serve the needs of land transportation, while allowing for the reasonable needs of navigation. The Alteration of Bridges program sets forth procedures by which the U.S. Coast Guard determines a bridge to be an unreasonable obstruction to navigation and issues an Order to Alter under various statutory authorities, including the Truman-Hobbs Act of June 21, 1940.

Twelve bridges are currently under an “Order to Alter” or have been congressionally declared obstructions to navigation under the Truman-Hobbs Act, including four railroad bridges crossing the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois.

  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway bridge, Burlington
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway bridge, Fort Madison
  • Union Pacific Railroad bridge, Clinton
  • Canadian Pacific Railway bridge, Sabula

Under the provisions of the Truman-Hobbs Act of June 21, 1940, as amended (33 U.S.C. 511 et seq.), the Coast Guard, as the federal government’s agent, is required to share with owners the cost of altering railroad and publicly owned highway bridges that obstruct the free movement of navigation on navigable waters of the United States in accordance with the formula established in 33 U.S.C. 516.

The ARRA funds allow federal appropriations made available in prior years to be expended, as sufficient funding will now be available to begin several bridge alterations. The ARRA funds will remain available until September 30, 2010, and used to fund authorized bridges that have 90 percent of their design completed and could begin construction during fiscal year 2009. The Coast Guard estimates these funds will create approximately 1,630 jobs.

Authorization

The Alteration of Bridges program is authorized by the following federal bridge statutes: Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act of 1899, Section 18, 30 Stat. 1153, 33 U.S.C. 502; Bridge Act of 1906, Sections 4 and 5, 34 Stat. 85, 33 U.S.C. 494, 495; Act of June 21, 1940, as amended; Truman-Hobbs Act, 54 Stat. 497, 33 U.S.C. 511-523.

Program objectives

The objective of the Alteration of Bridges program is to accomplish alteration of obstructive bridges to render navigation through or under it reasonably free, easy, and unobstructed for the benefit of navigation. In accordance with the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1996, permanent authority exists in 49 U.S.C. 104(e) to transfer funds from the Federal-Aid Highways discretionary bridge program to the Coast Guard to finance alteration of Truman-Hobbs obstructive highway bridges.

Specified funding uses and restrictions

Funds are reimbursed to bridge owner to cover payments of the federal government's share for work performed in altering the obstructive bridge in accordance with the approved general plans and specifications. All changes to plans and specifications need prior approval of the Coast Guard before reimbursement of expenditure can be authorized. Costs of alteration attributable to the following are ineligible:

  1. Direct and special benefits which will accrue to the bridge owner as a result of the alteration.
  2. The expectable savings in repair or maintenance costs.
  3. Requirements of traffic by railroad or highway or both.
  4. Increasing carrying capacity.
  5. Portion of the actual capital cost of the old bridge or such part of the old bridge as may be altered or changed or rebuilt as the used service life of the whole or a part, as the case may be, bears to the total estimated service life of the whole or such part: Provided, that the part of the cost of alteration of any bridge for both highway and railroad traffic, attributable to the requirements of traffic by highway, shall be borne by the proprietor of the highway.
  6. Provided further, that in the event the alteration or relocation of any bridge may be desirable for the reason that the bridge unreasonably obstructs navigation, but also for some other reason, the Secretary may require equitable contribution from any interested person, firm, association, corporation, municipality, county, or state desiring such alteration or relocation for such other reason, as a condition precedent to the making of an order for such alteration or relocation. The United States shall bear the balance of the cost, including that part attributable to the necessities of navigation. Bridge alteration and relocation actions must comply with the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (Public Law 91-190), as amended; the CEQ Regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508) which implements NEPA; Executive Order 11514, as amended, Protection and Enhancement of Environmental Quality; DOT Order 5610.1C, Procedures for Considering Environmental Impacts, and COMDTINST M16475.1C, NEPA Implementing Procedures.

Applicant eligibility

Any state, county, municipality, or other political subdivision or any corporation, association, partnership, or individual owning or jointly owning any lawful bridge over navigable waters of the United States, which is used and operated for the purpose of carrying railroad traffic, or both railroad and highway traffic; or any state, county, municipality, or other political subdivision owning or jointly owning any lawful bridge over the navigable waters of the United States which is used and operated for the purpose of carrying highway traffic.

Credentials/Documentation

A bridge must be determined to unreasonably obstruct navigation. This determination is made by the Coast Guard after conducting an investigation and determining that the navigational benefits that would accrue as a result of altering the bridge equal or exceed the cost of alteration.

Formula and matching requirements

The general statutory procedures which serve as the basis of determining the proportionate shares of the total cost of the project to be borne by the United States and by bridge owner are described in the Act of June 21, 1940, as amended (Truman-Hobbs Act) (54 Stat. 497, 33 U.S.C. 516). The general procedure and statutory requirements are also listed in 33 CFR 116.30. In the event the alteration or relocation of any bridge may be desirable for reasons that the bridge unreasonably obstructs navigation, but also for some other reasons, equitable contribution from any interested person, firm, association, corporation, municipality, county, or state desiring such alteration or relocation as a condition precedent to making an order for alteration or relocation. The United States bears the balance of the cost including that part attributable to the necessities of navigation.

Regulations, guidelines and literature

33 CFR 116, Truman-Hobbs Act, 33 U.S.C. 511-523, Commandant Instruction M16590.5 - Chapter 6. These documents are available in the Bridge Administration Division of the U. S. Coast Guard, 2100 Second Street, SW., Washington, DC 20593-0001.

Selection of bridges eligible for funding

The selection criteria are primarily based on the benefit to navigation and the cost of alteration of the obstructive bridge. The following criteria are used to determine if a bridge is obstructive under the Truman-Hobbs Act: The district commander receives complaints that a bridge is obstructive to navigation, or he can initiate an investigation because of numerous accidents. Through informal discussions with the complainant and other affected and or concerned parties, if sufficient information is available, the district commander may formulate an opinion on whether or not the bridge in question is an unreasonable obstruction to navigation. If the district commander determines that further investigation is not warranted, the district commander informs the complainant there is not enough evidence to warrant an investigation and takes no further action. If the district commander concludes that the bridge could be an unreasonable obstruction to navigation, the district commander conducts a preliminary investigation, which involves: analyzing the existing bridge to determine if the navigational clearances are restrictive and to what extent; describing the waterway in the vicinity of the bridge (with charts of the area) for the record to establish, area and location of bridge in question, and any naturally occurring aspects of the environment which may impact navigation; collecting data on bridge openings to establish amount of use, accidents attributed to restrictive navigational clearances and not pilot error, all costs associated with accidents as described above, and other costs associated with the need to alter for the benefit of navigation (i.e., the cost of double tripping); computing the navigation benefits; and recommending a course of action.

A preliminary investigation report is sent to the commandant for review. If the commandant determines that the bridge is not an unreasonable obstruction to navigation, the commandant then notifies the district commander that the bridge does not qualify for alteration under the Truman-Hobbs Act and no further action is required. The case may be reopened if changes in navigation occur. If the commandant determines that the bridge may be an unreasonable obstruction to navigation, the commandant then directs the district commander to conduct a detailed investigation. The purpose of the investigation is to gather additional facts to determine if the bridge is indeed an unreasonable obstruction to navigation, what clearances are needed, and any other circumstances that need disclosing.

The district commander forwards a Detailed Investigation Report to the commandant. The report contains detailed information and substantiated data collected during the investigation in support of the recommendation.

The commandant reviews the Detailed Investigation Report and conducts a Benefit/Cost Analysis. The commandant then determines if the benefit to navigation which will result from the alteration is at least equal to the cost of making the bridge alterations. If the benefit does not at least equal the cost then the bridge can not be altered under the Truman-Hobbs Act.

The navigation benefit is used to calculate the benefit-to-cost ratio (B/C). The B/C will be used to determine eligibility under the Truman-Hobbs Act and to justify for funding before Congress. The navigational benefits generally will be calculated in three categories, namely: (1) vessels delays resulting from limited clearances of the bridge (or transit time savings, resulting from a reduction in transit time and thus operating expenses in clearing the bridge zone); (2) collision damage resulting from accidents caused by the limited clearance of the bridge (or Water Accident Reduction Savings, due to elimination/reduction of future damages to the bridge, fenders, and vessels); and (3) certain other savings have been eliminated. Examples of these savings are elimination of a need for extra pilots, crew, and tugs; elimination of environmental delays such as tide, wind, currents darkness, visibility directly attributable to the limited clearance of the bridge itself; and increase in trips, because the restrictive bridge clearance that had heretofore prohibited the use of larger barge and/or tows.

The B/C is computed and is the indicator to determine if a bridge is an unreasonable obstruction to navigation alterable under the Truman-Hobbs Act. If the commandant concludes that the bridge does not qualify for alteration under the Truman-Hobbs Act, the commandant notifies the district commander that the bridge does not qualify and no further action is required. However, the case may be reopened with additional information if the commandant determines that the bridge is an unreasonable obstruction to navigation and qualifies for alteration under the Truman-Hobbs Act. The commandant notifies the district commander to inform the bridge owner of the required changes. The bridge owner is given 60 days to reply. When the reply is received or when the 60 days are up, the commandant issues the order to alter.

The district commander prioritizes investigations of possible obstructive bridges based upon a variety of relevant factors. The factors taken into account are type of bridge, location of bridge, cross current, accident history of the bridge, traffic density, duration of channel blockage and time to reopen, severity of damage resulting from accidents, type and amount of cargo transiting through the bridge, risk of the bridge being hit and savings due to avoidance of collision risk, economic impact to navigation industry, possible environmental consequences that may result from an accident and benefits to navigation. Priorities are continuously reviewed and updated by bridge division at headquarters. Inter-district priority for the alteration of bridges is established by headquarters. Priority is based on the severity of impacts attributable to each bridge. Priorities are updated as new bridges come to the district commander's attention and as new information becomes available that require changes in priorities.

For more information about the Alteration of Bridges program, see U.S.C. Title 33-Navigation and Navigable Waters – Part 116 – Alteration of unreasonably obstructive bridges.

Award announcement

On April 20, 2009, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was awarding $28.7 million in funding through the Recovery Act to replace and upgrade portions of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Bridge over the Mississippi River at Burlington. The ARRA funding will leverage federal monies already secured by Iowa’s Congressional delegation for the bridge through regular annual appropriations over the past several years.

The current estimated cost for the bridge alteration project has risen to about $56 million. Although $55.5 million in federal funds (Recovery Act and annual appropriations) have been secured for the project, a cap established under the Truman-Hobbs Act sets the maximum amount of federal funding at 90 percent. Therefore, BNSF Railway Company is responsible for the remaining 10 percent of projects costs.

On April 24, 2009, Assistant Vice President of the BNSF Railway Company Paul Nowicki had this to say about the bridge alteration project, "It's 100 percent wrench-ready. It's a wrench project, not a shovel project."

Nowicki, U.S. Rep Dave Loebsack and area stakeholders held a news conference on April 24 to celebrate receipt of the federal Recovery Act funds. At the news conference, Des Moines County Supervisor Jeff Heland said, "This has been a project and a dream for many, many years." Greater Burlington Partnership President Dennis Hinkle said, "That's going to bring some excellent jobs to our community for extended periods of time."

Nowicki said the hope is to let bids for the project in late spring 2009, award the contract in mid-summer and start work in November or December. The estimated time frame for completion is about two years. Nowicki said bids will be accepted from across the nation, so not all the estimated 100 to 200 jobs will originate in the southeast Iowa region. However, he said many employees will call Burlington home for portions of the construction period.

The current 2,000-foot-long bridge with 362-foot swing span dates to 1868 and was the first all-metal bridge across the Mississippi River. It was updated from wrought iron to steel in 1891. According to a U.S. Coast Guard report, this bridge is the third most frequently struck bridge in the country. Between 1992 and 2001, the bridge was struck 92 times. The frequency with which this bridge has been hit is not a function of traffic volume, which suggests that the characteristics of the bridge itself or its location on the waterway is a factor in the occurrence of allisions.

Due to the many barge collisions with the Pier 9 protection cells over the years, an Order to Alter was issued by the U.S. Coast Guard in August 1991. The requirements of the order call for a span arrangement that would be reconstructed on the same general alignment and provide a 300-foot horizontal navigation channel and 60-foot minimum vertical clearance from the normal pool elevation.

Preliminary studies for the bridge began in 1992. See Alternatives for Reconstruction of Bridge 204.66 over the Mississippi River, Burlington, Iowa, Burlington and Santa Fe Railway, October 7, 2003, HNTB Corporation. After evaluating the various options, BNSF Railway selected an alternative that calls for replacing the swing span and both approaches, realigning approaches to permit higher train speeds and reusing the original right-of-way alignment. The new bridge will also provide 365 feet of vertical lift. In addition, the bridge’s horizontal clearance will be increased by removing a pier for the swing span. The lift span will open and close more quickly – an important factor as the bridge opens about 2, 600 times a year. The design for the new bridge is complete and the project is ready to be constructed.

While the project approved by the Coast Guard includes only the alterations described in the previous paragraph, Nowicki said BNSF plans to eventually replace the entire bridge and they are in the process of looking at different options. The replacement project carries an estimated price tag of $120 million. Financing for replacement has not been determined.

Contact information

Office of Waterways Management, Bridge Program Division
United States Coast Guard
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
2100 Second Street, SW, Room 3500
Washington, DC 20593-0001
202-372-1511
Fax: 202-372-1914
Web site: http://uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg5411/default.asp