Infrastructure & Environment

The Top Transportation Challenges in 2014

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's lead watchdog.
by | December 18, 2013
"This will probably be a wake-up call for DOTs everywhere to look at the types of over-sized loads they're permitting and whether or not they have these kinds of bridges," said Paula Hammond, the former head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, in the wake of the Skagit River Bridge collapse. AP/Francisco Rodriguez

The U.S. Department of Transportation's lead watchdog says that developing safety plans, inspecting bridges and tunnels and managing the future of air traffic technology will be among the biggest challenges facing the department in 2014.

Inspector General Calvin Scovel's newly released list outlines seven big challenges facing the department next year. At the same time it's tasked with implementing many of the rules and requirements from MAP-21, the new highway bill enacted last year, the department will be preparing for the debate about the next highway bill since MAP-21 expires this fall. Scovel's priorities for the department follow.

Improving Federal Aviation Administration oversight

Scovel -- like many others -- highlighted the crash of Asiana Airlines 214 as evidence suggesting it's time to examine pilot training and qualifications. He says the agency has delayed issuing rules required by a 2010 law designed to develop pilot mentoring and leadership programs, as well as processes for managing safety risks. He says the agency has been slow to implement a new database of pilot records. Scovel also expressed concern about the growing rate of "serious runway incursions," in which collisions at airports are only narrowly avoided.

Figuring out NextGen

NextGen, the FAA's ambitious move to modernize the air traffic system by switching from a navigation system based on satellite instead of radar, has been mired by setbacks and delays. "FAA has been unable to set realistic plans, budgets, and expectations for key NextGen programs due to a lack of firm requirements for NextGen’s most critical capabilities," Scovel writes. He says a key challenge in 2014 will be addressing the causes of cost increases and delays that have plagued NextGen's rollout.

Strengthening highway, transit and pipeline safety

The Inspector General's office has repeatedly urged the Federal Highway Administration to improve oversight of state bridge programs. That call took on added urgency in the wake of the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge earlier this year. Last year's highway bill also required FHWA to establish a tunnel inspection program. Scovel's report highlights the added safety oversight responsibility the Federal Transit Administration is working to implement as well.

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