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An Amazing Bridge Collapse Statistic

As an Engineer, I’m often driven to find the why, the answer behind things. Also, statistics provide a level of reassurance that would seem almost bordering on ridiculous to the average person.

These two traits combine and rapidly form a mashup of ideas when I read news articles like this….

Though engineers have not yet determined why the Minneapolis bridge failed, bridge experts said its collapse was not necessarily the result of a physical breakdown. Of the 1,502 recorded bridge failures between 1966 and 2005, almost 60 percent were caused by soil erosion around the underwater bridge supports, according to Jean-Louis Briaud, a civil engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute.

Collapse Spotlights Weaknesses in U.S. Infrastructure – washingtonpost.com

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60%, that’s 900 bridge failures cause by one thing, one weakness.

It would be interesting to see what the other 40% comprised of, but we can guess that it would be things like material failure, earthquake, impact, and inadequate design. So for 60% to be caused by foundation failure, it makes you wonder why no one has come up with a technology or foolproof method of protecting existing bridge foundations from this sort of failure.

Or why has no one come up with a method of determining that this is a problem on a particular bridge, or that for a new bridge, that it may be susceptible to this type of failure?

Either the statistic is wrong, or the bridge building community needs to come up with some safeguards for foundations of existing bridges, and improved technologies for new bridges.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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