How programmatic agreements can accelerate repairs to roads and bridges

How programmatic agreements can accelerate repairs to roads and bridges
By Drew Powell
Jan 8, 2024

The United States has more than 600,000 bridges and over four million miles of highways, streets, and gravel tracks tracing a spidery network across the nation.

Faced with limited budgets, complex regulations, and an expanding number of stakeholders, state departments of transportation (DOTs) are seeking solutions that can speed repair of roads and bridges and save money. 

What is a programmatic agreement?

One promising solution is the implementation of a programmatic agreement. A programmatic agreement takes the often complicated and lengthy process required for one project, and transforms it into a quick, streamlined approach that can be applied to multiple projects.

To illustrate how these agreements work, consider a bridge that has been declared structurally deficient. Nearly one in three U.S. bridges (about 222,000) need to be replaced or repaired. At the current rate of construction, this will take 75 years to complete unless state DOTs can find a way to prevent delays, remove bureaucratic bottlenecks, and start building faster.

Let’s assume our hypothetical bridge is 40 years old, structurally deficient, and increasingly a danger to the thousands of drivers who use it every day. Even though there’s a clear urgency to get the bridge repaired, the approval process can be slow.

It often involves multiple agencies from federal, state, and city governments plus numerous regulations to navigate with the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Highway Administration. There’s also worried trucking companies and frustrated commuters. 

Streamlining species compliance

And often there are bats. 

Yes, one of the surprisingly common issues when repairing a bridge today is how to proceed if it’s home to a colony of bats. This often means additional coordination with government agencies, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and stakeholders to ensure the project follows all the laws and regulations governing vulnerable wildlife. 

We previously worked with state DOTs such as Georgia—home to 16 species of bats—to demonstrate how the use of ultrasonic sound is an effective way to exclude bats from these structures prior to and during construction. 

This is where a programmatic agreement can help. It provides an avenue for species compliance that doesn’t have to go through the standard Fish and Wildlife service regulations. If bats are found to have a colony under a bridge in need of repair, then the programmatic agreement would assist with determining the Avoidance and Minimization Measures (AMMs) necessary to avoid potential adverse impacts to bats from the specified project activities.

A programmatic agreement outlines these steps for every possible scenario. This agreed upon method allows projects to move forward based on what is in the document rather than having to go through the approval processes for every single project.

Statewide programmatic agreements

A project-based programmatic agreement can save time and money—eliminating days or weeks of potential delays. 

To increase speed and efficiency, we’re starting to work with multiple state DOTs to create statewide programmatic agreements. Meaning every transportation related project that can impact a particular species in that state will use the standards of this programmatic agreement.

Because this type of programmatic agreement can be applied to multiple projects involving bats or other species, the savings of days or weeks on one project can quickly add up to savings of months and years across the state where the programmatic agreement is in effect.

Bridge repairs involving bats are just one type of issue that programmatic agreements can assist with. They can also be applied to a wide range of uniquely complicated scenarios. This could include roads, highways, or transmission lines along with the need to protect birds, fish, other animals, or historical sites. 

We see programmatic agreements as an increasingly important solution for accelerating the modernization of the nation’s infrastructure. They provide state DOTs, government agencies, and other stakeholders with a clear framework of solutions and guidelines to reduce the growing complexity of transportation projects. 

Meet the author
  1. Drew Powell, Project Ecologist

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