My legislation (H.R. 409) amending the Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program to include the mandatory inspection of all highway tunnels passed on August 2nd in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Since the tragic July 2006 death of Milena Del Valle as a result of a falling ceiling panel in one of Boston’s Big Dig tunnels, many questions have been rightfully raised about the short-term and long-term safety of this project. When the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) met on July 10, 2007 to discuss their yearlong investigation into the accident, they issued a series of recommendations, including the establishment of a nationwide tunnel inspection program. My legislation, which was filed in January, creates a program modeled after the nationwide bridge inspection program.

Currently there are no national standards or requirements for inspecting highway tunnels. Instead, this responsibility lies with the tunnel owners, who have complete authority to determine how their tunnels should be inspected. At a minimum, tunnel owners must follow the requirements included in their bonding agreements relating to the structure.

H.R. 409 requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum inspection requirements for tunnels, include the maximum amount of time permitted between inspections and the manner in which inspections will be carried out. The Secretary will also establish the qualifications necessary for those conducting inspections, establish a national certification program for highway tunnel inspectors and implement a program to train inspectors.  States will be required to maintain an inventory of all highway tunnel inspection reports, including information detailing any follow up actions relating to inspections.

There is no question that national standards should exist for the inspection of all highway tunnels and I will work with my colleagues to advance H.R. 409.