Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings
May 1996, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

Automated Methods for Collecting Bridge Inspection Data in the Pontis Format

Fouad Fanous, Lowell Greimann, and Anabhra Soni

Department of Civil and Construction Engineering,
Iowa State University,
Ames, Iowa 50011.

This paper briefly introduces the software that was developed for the Iowa DOT to collect bridge inspection data for the Pontis bridge management system. The program's menu-driven format guides the user through the inspection and data entry process. After completing an inspection, the software allows the user to prepare detailed inspection reports. More important, the program can combine into one file the inspection data for different bridges for the use by the Pontis optimization routines to investigate different maintenance activities.

Bridges provide a critical link for transportation systems and economic growth. During the past few years, significant increases in legal loads as well as growth in the volume of traffic and reductions in resources for bridge maintenance have contributed to the deterioration of many of the bridges in the United States. For example, of the approximately 4,000 state-owned bridges in Iowa, more than 20 percent are classified as structurally or functionally deficient (1). [At the time of this writing] the percentage of deficient bridges owned by counties and cities in the state of Iowa is approximately 50 percent [NOTE: as of 2004, the percentage of deficient bridges owned by counties and cities in the state of Iowa is approximately 33 percent]. These deficient bridges annually compete for a share of the state's limited transportation budget.

The total cost to bring the condition and load-carrying capability of all bridges in the United States to minimum desired standards would exceed several billion dollars. However, present budgets allow for the expenditure of only a fraction of this cost annually. As some bridges are upgraded and repaired, others move into the deficient bridge category as they continually age and deteriorate. Therefore, to avoid an increase in the number of deficient bridges, either funds must be dramatically increased or present management tools must be improved. For these reasons, the U.S. Department of Transportation has developed legislation that requires states to implement a Bridge Management System (BMS) by October of 1998 in order to be eligible for federal funds (2).

In order to reduce the large number of deficient bridges, a more cost effective procedure for allocating bridge funds must be established. BMSs are one means of accomplishing this goal. The principal objective of a BMS is to make the best use of available funds in an overall bridge maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement (MR&R) program. The decision making, either at the level of the entire bridge population in a state (network level) or for an individual bridge (project level), is based on bridge conditions at the present and in the future. Without regular maintenance, the overall condition of a bridge deteriorates over time. Therefore, a BMS must utilize bridge inspection data to predict future structural conditions of bridge elements. This can then be used in conjunction with agency and users cost so that future needs such as personnel and funds can be estimated. Such an estimation can be accomplished by analyzing several improvement, maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement options and optimizing the selected option on a network or project level.


The state of Iowa has recognized the need for a comprehensive BMS. The state elected not to develop its own BMS tools but rather to adopt the Pontis BMS program (3). The Pontis program was developed by the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) under an agreement with the FHWA. Although the current National Bridge Inventory (NBI) 0 to 9 condition rating numbers for a bridge deck, superstructure, and substructure are easy to communicate, the Pontis Technical Advisory Committee and the Pontis developer agreed that fundamental shortcomings exist with this bridge rating system. As a result, a new rating system using a set of three to five condition states to describe the condition of approximately 160 elements was used in Pontis. Further, each element was classified into one of four possible environment conditions. Collecting these data represents the most time consuming and costly task. Therefore, it is necessary to set up an automated data collection method to help bridge inspectors gather this detailed bridge inspection data.

This paper summarizes the computerized methodology that was developed for collecting field inspection data required by the Pontis BMS. In addition, the paper outlines the method used to prepare the input data to be used in the Pontis optimization routine that selects different maintenance activities.


Two user-friendly programs were developed for the objectives mentioned above. The Automated Data Collection (ADC) program (3) is used to carry out the bridge inspection in the field. The function of the second program, the Pontis Data File Creation ( PDFC) program (4), is to prepare the input files for the Pontis BMS software. Both programs have on-line help menus that provide a description for each condition state of the Iowa DOT defined bridge elements. To execute these programs the user needs to have basic computer knowledge. Using the ADC and PDFC requires (1) a 386 or higher, 100 percent percent IBM compatible computer with a minimum of 4 MB of RAM; (2) a hard disk drive with at least 12 MB of disk space; (3) VGA or higher resolution monitor; (4) DOS 3.3 or higher; (4) Windows 3.1; and (5) a printer supported by Windows (optional). Both programs have on-line help menus that provide the user with descriptions for the different condition states and the unit measurements for each of the Iowa DOT defined bridge elements. On-screen help menus are provided in the programs to help the user with the use of the software (Figure 1).

The programs developed have been tested at the Iowa DOT by maintenance division personnel. Many changes were incorporated in the program as it was being developed based on the recommendations and suggestions of the Iowa DOT maintenance engineers.

Automated Data Collection (ADC) Program

When using the ADC program, the user is required to follow the steps as defined in the main menu. These steps are divided into two parts. Part 1 deals with defining a bridge general information, e.g., Bridge I.D., residency number, FHWA number, etc. (Figure 2). Also, Part 1 allows the user to define the elements in the bridge to be inspected using one of two alternatives. One approach is to select the elements from the general element list available in the program (Figure 3), while the other alternative is to utilize the classified element list option. In the second alternative, the user has to narrow the selection by the virtue of the bridge type, superstructure, deck, etc. (Figure 4). These steps can be accomplished in the office. Part 2, which relates to collecting a bridge inspection data, is to be used in the field. The program also allows the user to resume an incomplete inspection or to modify previously provided data.

As previously mentioned, the Pontis program rates the condition of a bridge element using a set of three to five condition states. These states define and describe the present condition of an element and the required maintenance action to improve this condition. The ADC program provides the use user with this information and hence one needs not carry the Pontis user manuals to the field. The program allows the user to define the unit measurements for each condition either in percentages or absolute quantities (Figure 5). Finally, the ADC program allows the user to prepare inspection reports in the format that is currently used by the Iowa DOT.

Pontis Data File Creation (PDFC) Program

To study different MR&R strategies, the Pontis program requires data files containing inspection data for several bridges for a net work wide optimization. In other words, one needs to combine inspection data of several bridges into one file that will be used by the Pontis program. This step can be accomplished utilizing the PDFC at the office by those who desire to utilize the Pontis program.


Some of the benefits of using the automated procedures are (1) detailed field inspection required in the Pontis format is carried out; (2) inspection reports are efficiently produced in a standard format. The developed software allows the user to add any comments related to the inspection; (3) all element inspection data can be stored on computer disks, thus eliminating the need for larger storage areas; (4) a considerable amount of time is saved in input of data in the Pontis software; (5) inspection data and reports can be transferred electronically between offices within or across the state; (6) the developed software eliminates the need to have a Pontis manual during a bridge inspection; and (7) storing the inspection data utilizing a computer will simplify retrieving any bridge inspection data.


The research discussed in this paper was conducted within the Bridge Engineering Center under the auspices of the Engineering Research Institute of Iowa State University. This investigation was sponsored by the Highway Division, Iowa Department of Transportation, and the Highway research Board under research project 364. The authors would like to thank Mr. Bruce Brakke, Mrs. Marlee Walton, and Mr. Roger Walton from the Iowa DOT. Their support of the research effort is greatly appreciated.

  1. Bridges on the Brink, Civil Engineering Magazine, May 1990.
  2. D.O'Conner and R. Drumm. Bridge Management Systems-Advancing the Science. TR News 173, July-August, 1994.
  3. A Network Optimization System for Bridge Management and Maintenance. Pontis User's Manual, Version 2, Cambridge Systematic, Inc./ Optima, 1994.
  4. F.S. Fanous, A.R. Soni, and L.F. Greimann, Automated Recording of Bridge Inspection Data in the Pontis Format, Report to Iowa-DOT and Iowa Highway Research Board, Iowa DOT Project HR-364, ISU-ERI-Ames-95158, Ames, Iowa , 1995.

  5. The opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Highway Division of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

CTRE is an Iowa State University center, administered by the Institute for Transportation.

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