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Making bridges safer with digital inspections – part 2 of 2

June 13, 2022

A new hope

The Infrastructure Bill provides states with additional resources to make long overdue infrastructure improvements. Under a program specifically targeting bridges, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) will distribute more than $27.5 billion to states for bridge repairs over the next five years, in addition to a newly-created DoT discretionary bridge program which will provide an additional $12.5 billion for projects through 2026.

Every state will also be able to access newly-funded federal formula highway programs for bridge improvements, including the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, with the total funds of these programs increasing to $59 billion in 2022.

Outside of funding distribution, further hope can be found in newly decreed highway bridge inspection standards, updated and revised for the first time since 2009 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The standards adopt a “risk-based” approach to prioritize urgent inspections and optimize limited resources. And, both an incrimination of the dire state of highway bridges and a cause to celebrate, the FHWA set forth that highway bridges must now be inspected every 24 months.

Getting started with digital

Given the enormity of the issue, tackling bridge safety can be daunting at every step – inspection, planning, repair – more so with the number of public and private stakeholders involved. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and a major part of the solution is probably already in your hands.

The recent advance of digital inspection platforms that can be accessed and operated directly from a mobile device represent the cutting edge in the fight against a crumbling infrastructure. Affordable, powerful, and user-friendly digital platforms specifically designed to both collect reliable inspection data can effectively manage inspection programs, regardless of size, sector, or infrastructure issue.

Ready for use out-of-the-box by inspectors, repair teams, and supervisors alike, leading platforms like Fulcrum empower your workforce with customizable digital checklists that define accurate inspections procedures, give everyone access to always-updated, cloud-based information in real-time, and have diverse information-sharing options.

With these features, digital checklists facilitate both the accurate and consistent collection of pertinent information and its rapid, seamless communication, connecting critical and value-rich inspection data to the right people at the right time – the foundation for a rigorous inspection program necessary for bridge safety.

Digital inspections lead the way

Digital inspection platforms not only serve to prioritize work, but can become the central hub through which you can collect and share relevant data, manage workers, analyze data for better insights, assign and execute tasks, all in a seamless, efficient way that promotes safety. Let’s look at some critical areas that digital solutions can bring bridge inspections and safety up to speed and quality.

‍Bridge triage

The high number of bridges in disrepair, the overwhelming inspection backlog, and the limited visibility into the problem’s scope make prioritizing urgent repairs challenging. Outdated paper-based inspection processes further exacerbate this challenge. These systems compartmentalize critical information, leaving responsible government bodies uncertain about the next steps to take.

With bridges – or any other potential safety hazards – the faster and more you know, the better you can respond. Unfortunately, both legacy processes and technology hamper the reliable and quick collection and circulation of information.

With cloud-based, real-time synchronization of digital platforms, inspection teams instantly share updated data so that it is always available, to all stakeholders, at any stage of the inspection process. This opens communication between field and office, better positioning both sides to identify potential hazards, adapt to any situation, and reliably prioritize inspections with comprehensive, data-driven decisions. This kind of responsive triage is accelerated even further by real-time notifications and automated workflows, so more urgent needs are always rising to the top.


Individual governments will likely have multiple bridges needing inspections and repairs. This may involve hiring new contractors or transferring employees to different departments. Regardless of the number of people and organizations involved, a digital inspection platform unifies inspectors, repair teams, and management with shared, cloud-connected data.

Additionally, digital checklists can be customized with precise SOPs and user-friendly dropdown menus. This allows new employees to follow specific instructions without overlooking important details. Supervisors, with access to shared data, can remotely and in real-time monitor inspection progress and work quality. This guarantees integrity and ensures a timely response.


Different state and local agencies often handle a bridge’s safety and repair. Information dispersion is common, especially with a paper-based inspection system. However, deploying a single digital inspection platform breaks down jurisdictional information barriers. It brings all players together and enables the free flow of always-updated data.

When every stakeholder in the inspection process, including inspection teams, project managers, public officials, and repair teams, can access a single digital repository of uniform, reliable, and real-time data, information gaps are eliminated.

Sharing data also goes beyond the inspection and repair process. Digital tools enable the home office to gather inspection data within their jurisdiction. This provides increased visibility for better decision-making and facilitates the analysis of data sets. The data can then be submitted to the federal government for grant approval and fund reimbursement. In a digital platform, information flows horizontally and vertically, allowing the capture and sharing of various data segments in different reporting formats.

A worker performing bridge inspection

‍Data quality

Collecting reliable data on bridge structural integrity is necessary before releasing funds for repairs. This enables accurate prioritization of bridges with imminent safety threats and resource allocation.

Yet, when the inspection process relies on paper records, it hinders the collection of evidence for funding triage. For example, conveying the urgency of extensive structural damage through a written description is challenging. While a picture is usually worth a thousand words, it’s even more valuable for public safety.

Digital inspection platforms let users attach multimedia files to checklists and records. This paints a clear picture of a bridge’s physical condition. Including photos and videos displaying crack severity, exposed rebar, or crumbling concrete persuades regulatory bodies to allocate funds.

‍Daily work

After repairs commence, digital inspection platforms streamline workflows. They ensure every worker performs tasks safely and as required. These platforms also offer real-time flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. Here are some of the benefits of digital tools that make this happen:


As previously mentioned, checklists can be customized for specific tasks and filled with SOPs. This ensures that everyone on-site understands the exact procedures to follow, reducing individual errors that can result in expensive delays and rework.

Task assignment

When everyone uses the same pocket device platform, supervisors can monitor progress and assign tasks on the fly, responding to any situation that arises.

Issue reporting

As repair work progresses, additional safety issues may emerge, requiring swift identification. On-site workers, even if not trained for it, can assist in ad hoc inspections. Leading platforms like Fulcrum include a convenient QR code for reporting safety issues, which are seamlessly imported into the field inspection database for immediate remediation to start.

Safety protocols

As repairs progress, the complexity of bridge repair likely means that safety protocols will change for both workers and the public. Each stage can quickly send updated safety protocols to all team members. They then adjust how they perform their jobs and implement measures to protect public safety.

Efficiency and speed

Bridge work causes significant public inconvenience, putting repair teams under considerable pressure to complete the work as quickly as possible. A digital inspection platform features shared data updated in real-time, task assignment, visibility, and oversight. It also includes easy-to-follow checklists, resulting in a field team engaged in streamlined workflows, completing work on time and without rework.

Back-end data and visibility

Successful bridge triage and repairs rely on gathering diverse data points. When digital platforms rapidly merge and analyze all data, supervisors attain valuable data-driven insights into work performance and improvement opportunities. Data analysis makes visible roadblocks otherwise left unseen, leading to better decisions that optimize workflows. It is this kind of high-level, single-pane visibility – merging inspection data with a wide range of tasks and SOPs, available to all stakeholders – that sets a successful digital platform apart.

Let’s build this together

With the Infrastructure Bill’s passage, state and local governments now have a unique opportunity. They can address bridge projects that have posed safety threats for decades, thanks to this momentous legislation.

To maximize this opportunity, responsible agencies should consider implementing a digital field inspection platform. This technology is available at every project stage by all stakeholders, from on-site workers to budget officers.

Fulcrum offers a comprehensive solution with all the necessary tools in one platform. This strengthens the inspection process and ensures successful funding for long-lasting repairs.

Interested in reading more about how unsafe, structurally unsound bridges became the most visible infrastructure issue in the United States? Check out the full guide here!