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Lansing — Some Michigan bridges classified as being in critical condition aren’t being inspected as frequently or as thoroughly as they should be, according to an audit released Friday.

The Michigan Department of Transportation agreed with findings from the state Auditor General that inspections of bridges need to be improved. MDOT is required to inspect more than 5,800 state-owned bridges at least every two years.

The auditor’s report said MDOT didn’t have sufficient processes for ensuring inspectors consistently increased the frequency of inspections for structurally deficient bridges. As a result, some bridges might not have been inspected as often as necessary. MDOT also didn’t provide consistent guidance to inspectors for bridges where plywood decking is used to prevent broken concrete from falling onto traffic until other repairs can be made.

The report recommends MDOT pursue state legislation to move toward more risk-based bridge inspection, allowing engineers to inspect bridges in good condition less frequently. That process would also require seeking approval from the Federal Highway Administration for longer inspection intervals where warranted.

“Why should we waste our time to go out and look at a brand new bridge?” MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said in an interview with The Detroit News. “We agreed to that.”

MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said the department plans to start that two-step process soon. The changes, if approved, could help improve efficiency of the bridge inspection program by freeing up resources for more frequent inspections of structurally deficient bridges, Cranson said.

Matt Chynoweth, MDOT’s deputy engineer for the Metro Detroit region, said bridges on the state’s critical list are inspected at least every 18 months, with some getting checked quarterly.

For the 6,500 locally owned bridges statewide, responsibility for inspections is delegated by MDOT to the cities, counties, villages and townships that own the bridges. MDOT didn’t have sufficient measures to ensure those local bridge owners and regional MDOT offices completed routine inspections, according to the audit.

MDOT also didn’t ensure action plans for bridges with certain critical conditions contained all recommended information.

The overall audit concludes the bridge inspection program is moderately effective, an improvement from the finding in a 2010 audit that it was not effective.

It’s the third audit this year that has been critical of MDOT practices. A previous audit revealed issues with the department’s $9.5 million leasing and refurbishment of rail cars, which are not expected to be used until at least 2017. Another audit found warranties for road and bridge construction projects were not adequately monitored in some cases, which could lead to responsibility for repair costs shifting from the contractor to the state.

“We can all get stuck in a rut until you get a fresh set of eyes,” Steudle said. “From that perspective, the audits are fine.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.

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