The U.S. Department of Transportation should focus its efforts heavily on completing a National Rail Plan (NRP) and reporting to stakeholders how effective states are in their efforts to improve deficient bridges across the nation, according to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDOT. The recommendations were outlined in a report identifying OIG’s top 10 recommendations for the department in the current year.

OIG outlined the completion of an NRP as a high priority due to its ability to save money, gain additional support for rail projects, and help identify where money is best spent.

“The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 calls for the Federal Railroad Administration to develop an NRP to provide a framework for the integration of passenger and freight rail across the country so that public and private stakeholders understand their roles in developing services and can invest with certainty,” according to the report. “When complete, the NRP will also identify specific interstate corridor goals and measures of success. Delays in establishing the NRP could result in FRA investing billions of dollars in federal grant funds without assurance that these efforts support national policy goals, and stakeholders could remain reluctant to commit.”

Another major priority OIG identified was that of oversight and performance measures for states in fixing deficient bridges. This gained even more momentum with the passage of MAP-21, which stressed the importance of addressing these bridges.

“Given the limited funding to address these deficiencies, we have reported since 2006 the need to improve the quality of inspection data and implement data-driven, risk-based oversight of states’ bridge programs,” according to the report. “In January 2010, we recommended that Federal Highway Administration report regularly to internal and external stakeholders on the effectiveness of states’ efforts to improve the condition of the nation’s deficient bridges… Such action will also be critical to help FHWA meet new requirements for more performance-based management of highway bridges in MAP-21.”

The complete text of OIG’s top 10 recommendations for USDOT is available on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials website.