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Similar Bridge Collapses

Page history last edited by brow1769@... 16 years, 1 month ago



Similar Bridge Collapses



                                   The Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse, 1940. 

                                   photo credit:  Library of Congress, DIGID http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.wa0453



The 35W Bridge collapse reminded us that bridges do fail, even ones we think are modern or trustworthy. However, the 35W bridge collapse was unique. Most United States bridge failures (53%) are a result of flood or scour (1). Other common causes of collapse are overload or collisions with trucks, trains, ships, and barges. It is relatively rare that a United States bridge has actually collapsed due to a structural defect. Chronological information about similar bridge collapses in United States History can be found below.


Although each bridge had a different design and collapsed due to the failure of a different element, all of the bridges examined here had common features contributing to their failure. The bridges tended to have structures that were not redundant.   Nonredundant structures cause a partial collapse to progress to a total collapse because each component of the bridge is intricately linked to the others. Bridge design has changed as a result of these past failures.  Engineers and designers now utilize redundancy in their plans. Then, if part of the span fails, a collapse can potentially be avoided, or at least a smaller portion of the bridge is affected rather than the whole.


The collapsed bridges also had critical features that either could not be inspected or were not inspected (2). As a result of these collapses, modern bridge design ensures that critical features are visible and testable in an inspection. The need for regular, effective inspection has also been recognized, although resources may limit the extent to which United States bridges are, in fact, inspected.


The resulting changes to policy after each bridge collapse illustrate Lichtenstein's "Pendulum Principle."  Bridge expert Abba Lichtenstein has more than 45 years of experience in the design, inspection, and rating of bridges (3).  He helped develop national standards for the inspection and rating of all types of bridges, and was principal investigator for the research that led to revisions to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Manual for the Condition Evaluation of Highway Bridges (3).  In Abba Lichtenstein's recounting of the Silver Bridge collapse, he described the basis of the "pendulum principle": 


A dramatic collapse of a certain type of bridge is followed by a period of intense research activity. Engineering resources and energies are mobilized to investigate, explain, and litigate the accident. Federal and state agencies, universities, and other research organizations swing into action with full force to study the cause of failure and find remedies. Eventually, new specifications and methods of bridge design and inspection are produced by this accelerated research, and they become the state of the art of the industry. The bridge community then normalizes and watches for the next occasion to move into action and absorb the results of the next unexpected bridge failure (4).


To learn more about the structural causes of the 35W collapse, visit Structural Causes of the Collapse.

To learn about bridge collapses worldwide from all causes, visit Bridge Collapses.



Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster

December 29, 1876

Ashtabula, Ohio



During the aftermath of this collapse, the media began referring to it as the "Ashtabula Horror." At 7:28 PM, December 29, 1876, the double track railroad bridge over Ashtabula Creek (Ashtabula, Ohio) failed. The collapse occured as a Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway train crossed the double track bridge. This collapse occurred during a snowstorm that dumped two feet of snow onto the tracks and produced 40 mph winds. Train no. 5, The Pacific Express, was traveling with two locomotives, eleven railcars, and 159 passengers and crew. Of the 159 on board, 64 were injured and 92 died, 48 unrecognized. The first locomotive, The Socrates, made it across the bridge and was the only part of the train that did not drop 60 feet into the crevice below.


Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway lost $495,722 due to the bridge collapse (5). The 150 foot span of the bridge was made of iron and spanned the crevice on a Howe Truss between two abutments. The bridge was built over a two year period spanning from 1863 to 1865. It collapsed after 11 years of use. After the collapse, the Ohio State Legislature appointed an investigating committee to determine the cause of the collapse. Eventually the failure was attributed to fatigue and inadequate inspection. The collapse had a lasting impact on bridge constuction and inspection. Governmental policymakers soon realized that there was a need for standard bridge specifications, for qualified consulting engineers, and for an evaluation of the reliability of iron castings (2).


To learn more about the Ashtabula Horror, visit Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster.


Tacoma Narrows Bridge

November 7, 1940

Tacoma, WA


While officially named the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, it was more commonly referred to as "Galloping Gertie." The design for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Tacoma, WA) utilized a slim, elegant design using plate girders instead of lattice beam trusses and was the third longest suspension bridge in the world when completed. The design type meant wind had to part up and down to pass the bridge instead of flowing through the lattice roadbed. As soon as the bridge construction was complete, engineers discovered that the bridge would sway and buckle in mild winds. As cars drove over the bridge, the road would rise and fall, creating hills and valleys in a transverse resonance mode, leading to the nickname Galloping Gertie.  Because it had such a large mass engineers considered the bridge safe, despite the bridge's movement (2).


On November 7, 1940 a new type of resonance movement was seen during 40 mile per hour winds, transverse movement. This type of wave movement caused the sides of the bridge to alternately rise and fall with greater and greater height, until the sidewalks on either side were 28 feet apart in height. Finally, the cables failed and the entire midspan fell into the Tacoma narrows. No fatalities occured as nearly all the cars had been cleared off the bridge when the oscillations started. One dog, "Tubby" was a casualty of the collapse as he was too afraid to get out of the car, and bit one person who tried to rescue him. The collapse was caught on color Kodachrome film and the sunken remains are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


To learn more about the Tacoma Narrows collapse, visit Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse.


Silver Bridge Collapse

December 15, 1967

Point Pleasant, WV


The Silver Bridge, also referred to as the Point Pleasant Bridge, connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Kanauga, Ohio across the Ohio River. At 5:00 PM, December 15, 1967 the bridge suddenly collapsed. In one minute the 700 foot center span, the two 380 foot side spans, and the support towers all collapsed. Of 37 vehicles on the bridge at the time of the collapse, 31 fell resulting in 46 fatalities and 9 injuries.


The Silver Bridge was an eyebar suspension bridge, an unusual bridge design. After the collapse, a major design flaw was found: lack of redundancy. Each piece of the bridge was intricately linked to the others and the failure of one component then resulted in the failure of the whole bridge. The cause of the collapse was found to be a cleavage fracture (across the grain of the material) in the lower limb of an eyebar, causing the separation of the eyebar from its chain, allowing the sister eyebar to slide off. Failure at this eyebar caused the failure of the entire structure. This collapse resulted in the development of a national bridge inspection and replacement program (2).


To learn more about the silver bridge collapse, visit Silver Bridge Collapse.


Mianus River Bridge

June 28, 1983

Greenwich, CT


At 1:30 AM, June 28, 1983 the Mianus River bridge in Greenwich, Connecticut failed after 25 years of use. A 100 foot span, weighing 500 tons, fell 70 feet into the river below. Two tractor-trailers and two cars fell, resulting in 3 deaths and 3 serious injuries. The timing of the collapse prevented more deaths and injuries from occuring because there were few people on the usually crowded bridge.


The bridge design had a skewed simple span, supported at each corner by pin and hanger asemblies, held in place by thin locking caps. The cause of the collapse was a hanger pin failure due to corrosion. The storm drains on the bridge had purposefully been paved over 10 years prior during bridge maintenance. The lack of drainage caused the locking cap corrosion and subsequent failure. The collapse resulted in the reopening of storm drains on the rest of the bridge and similar bridges and called into question the level and methods of bridge inspection.


To learn more about the Mianus River bridge collapse, visit Mianus River Bridge Collapse.


Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge

April 5, 1987

Fort Hunter, NY


The Schoharie Creek thruway bridge near Fort Hunter, New York collapsed during a near record flood April 5, 1987, after 33 years of use. Six inches of rain combined with snow melt to create a 50 year flood. The bridge design was five simple support spans connected by concrete pier frames. Pier three collapsed resulting in spans three and four falling into the flooded creek. Five vehicles fell into the water: one car and one tractor-trailer that were on the bridge and three cars that drove into the gap. Pier two and span two fell 90 minutes later. Ten deaths resulted and all but one body was recovered.


A 100 year flood occured the year after the bridge opened in 1954. The bridge survived that flood, but the damage done may have had an impact on the eventual collapse (2). The cause of the failure was later attributed to excessive scour at the bases of the piers, resulting from compromised scour protection, and the collapse resulted in accelerated research into scour (6) . After the collapse, the Federal Highway Administration required states to identify bridges likely to have scour problems and bridges where scour was known to be severe.


To learn more about the Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge collapse, visit Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge Collapse.


Tennessee Hatchie River Bridge

April 1, 1989

Covington, Tennessee


On April 1, 1989 a 60 foot section of the Hatchie River bridge for State Highway 51 in Covington, Tennessee, collapsed into the river below. The river was bloated with rainwater and was 2.7 feet above the twelve foot flood level. Four cars and one tractor-trailer fell 25 feet into the river and all the vehicle occupants died, resulting in eight deaths. The bridge was 50 years old.


Federal investigation found that the river channel had moved 83 feet since the bridge was constructed in 1936 and that the failure was a result of deteriorating timber piles underwater which had originally been buried.  After the Hatchie River bridge collapse, Tennessee started sending divers underwater every five years to check for structural problems. The National Traffic Safety Board faulted Tennessee for not fixing problems with the bridge ten years earlier (7).


To learn more about the Hatchie River bridge collapse, visit Hatchie River Bridge Collapse.





1.  Thorton, C.H., Tomasetti, R.L., & Joseph, L.M. (1988).  Lessons from schoharie creek Civil Engineering, 58(5), 46-49.

2.  Delatte, N. (2007). Maintenance and management lessons learned from bridge collapses. Prepared for the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Paper #07-2306. 

3.  "Deen Lecture 85th Annual Meeting Press Release" (2006).  Retrieved May 1, 2008, from trb.org/am/news/2006PR/Deen.pdf.

4.  Lichtenstein, A. (1993).  The silver bridge collapse recounted. Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities, 7(4), 249-261.

5.  "Corporate Stockholder Report" (1877).  Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway. Retrieved May 1, 2008, from http://home.alltel.net/arhf/bridge.htm.

6.  "Collapse of New York Thruway (I-90) bridge over the Schoharie Ckeek, near Amsterdam, New York, April 5, 1987" (1987).  National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

        Highway Accident Report: NTSB/HAR-88/02, Washington, D.C.

7.  Associated Press (1990). Tennessee is faulted in collapse of bridge. New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2008, from                                                                                                             http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE2D6143BF935A35755C0A966958260.

Comments (5)

volm0004@... said

at 11:57 am on Apr 20, 2008

Hello Jessica!
I am going to list a bunch of comments below that apply to all of your pages so I don't have to add a new comment to every page. If you have any questions about any of my suggestion just let me know, sometimes I have a habit of not being specific enough and I know that can get frustrating but I will try my best!

1) Define all of you vocabulary on the first page and then again on subsequent pages (I did see you did some of this). If you don't want to type everything out then link to wikipedia or something because you lose your readers in some of the technical aspects. Help your readers to understand what a "lattice roadbed" and "eyebar suspension bridge" are (these are just two examples.

2) Try to limit your use of bullet points. In the March 13, 2008 chat we discussed how we would really like to present information as a timeline rather than bullet points. If you are covering something like the details of the collapse then put it in paragraph form and save the bullet for lists. I think this will help you convey your points better (you have some really great information).

3) Put in reference numbers. You have a lot of really detailed information but never provide any information regarding what reference it came from. Number each reference and then place that number in () at the end of the sentence containing information from there. If you look around at other pages you will see some examples. Also, I believe each reference should appear in the following way: Author, Title (underlined). Date retrieved.

4) Be consistent, decide whether you are going to capitalize the words bridge and collapse and then use the same style throughout all of your pages.

5) Don't copy text from the first page onto the subpages, I think it might lose readers. Try to alter the information and save some of the really interesting points for the subpages. Also, consider making each summary of the main page a little shorter since the page tends to run long.

volm0004@... said

at 11:58 am on Apr 20, 2008

I am inserting comments throughout the pages to give suggestions in specific places and am also going to match your formating to the rest of the wiki. I think you have compiled some really great material and have done a good job of organizing it appropriately. Keep up the good work!

volm0004@... said

at 12:20 pm on Apr 20, 2008

All of my comments are in bold, let me know if you need any further explanations.

brow1769@... said

at 10:29 pm on Apr 20, 2008

re: references...
Thanks for that - I've been kind of waiting to put them into the main page because I wasn't sure if we decided on a format. I've seen a variety of ways on other pages...I think i need to review the style guide!

brow1769@... said

at 10:30 pm on Apr 20, 2008

and thanks for the formatting! I accidentally changed it and then COULD NOT!!!! get it back no matter how hard I tried :)

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