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    Underwater Investigations Gains Ear of Federal Highway Administration

    Thomas J. Collins, P.E.

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    Influenced to a major extent by an ASCE standard practice manual, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has proposed extensive revisions to its National Bridge Inspections Standards (NBIS). Issued in April 2001, the Underwater Investigations Standard Practice Manual was developed by a task committee of COPRI's Ports and Harbors Committee over a period of more than five years, and was a major step in raising underwater inspections to a higher level of professionalism. The manual recognizes the importance of professional judgment during the inspection process, stating that "... a properly executed underwater inspection goes well beyond the mere logging of observed defects ...[and] the underwater inspection team should always be led by a registered, licensed professional engineer who is also a qualified diver." The guidelines also require that the professional engineer diver conduct at least 25% of the diving inspection work. It further specifies that other diving inspectors shall be graduate engineers who have been certified as engineers in training (EIT) or technicians who have completed a comprehensive 80-hour course in structural inspections.

    The FHWA-proposed revisions to the NBIS include revisions of portions related to underwater bridge inspection, which have been submitted through FHWA's rulemaking process (FHWA Docket No. FHWA-2001-8954). Underwater Investigations was cited in the discussions of the proposed revisions, and a number of the initial comments received from organizations and public citizens regarding diver qualifications also echoed the guidance provided in the manual. While FHWA is not proposing adoption of all elements of the ASCE manual, the proposed revisions do reiterate the minimum training requirements for technician diving inspectors outlined in the manual by proposing that as a minimum, all divers complete a comprehensive bridge or underwater inspection training course. To purchase Underwater Investigations, call 1-800-548-2723, or visit the ASCE Publications website at