Is That Bridge Safe?

Is That Bridge Safe?

by Sachinder Gupta


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781449044718
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 03/08/2010
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.63(d)

Read an Excerpt

Is That Bridge Safe?

Corporate Greed vs. Public Safety
By Sachinder Gupta


Copyright © 2010 Sachinder Gupta
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4490-4471-8

Chapter One


Is the bridge that you are about to drive over, safe?

Or, are you going to be like one of the 13 very unfortunate commuters who perished when the I-35 West Bridge over Mississippi River in Minnesota collapsed on August 1, 2007?

Or, like one of the 5 unfortunate people who perished when a 25 meter section of the 35 year old Laval Bridge in Quebec, Canada, sent tons of concrete onto two cars, on September 30, 2006. The cars were flattened to about knee height. The collapse of this bridge was blamed on total lack of quality control, shoddy construction, and low quality concrete. Chunks of concrete were seen falling from the overpass before it collapsed.

Will you be another Linda and Daniel Sanchez who suffered personal injury on October 18, 2003 in Albany, when a boulder size chunk of concrete smashed through the windshield and into the passenger compartment while the Sanchezs were driving on I-90?

Remember the multi-story parking garage you just parked in? Did you notice the fine hairline cracks in the concrete? They didn't seem critical, did they? Did the salt and deicing chemicals seep into those cracks; and cause corrosion of the reinforcing steel? Will a chunk of concrete fall on your car as you enter or leave the garage next time?

On March 19, 2008 motorists in Michigan called the police to say that a chunk of concrete fell on to the highway from the overpass that takes M-84 over I-75. Deputies closed one lane of southbound I-75, the lane above which the damaged decking was most pronounced. There was a 3 foot to 4 foot section of decking where it appeared chunks of concrete were falling on to the roadway.

In March 2007, three overpasses crumbled on to Metro Detroit roadways within 4 days, damaging vehicles, shocking commuters and drawing renewed scrutiny to what federal reports said was the ninth worst network of bridges in the country. On Tuesday, several vehicles were damaged when chunks of the Groesbeck overpass fell onto westbound I-696. No one was seriously hurt. On Sunday concrete fell from a bridge at Stark Road and I-96 in Livonia, and on Friday, from a railroad overpass onto Schaefer in Melvindale. Will Maddox, a 22 year old Detroiter who drove on Groesbeck on Tuesday, said he worried about debris falling from Metro Detroit overpasses.

Bridges and buildings have been collapsing from time immemorial. The earliest bridge collapse was probably the Stirling Bridge, in Scotland, in September 1297. During the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the beam and trestle bridge over River Forth was overloaded by the attacking forces and collapsed.

In 1444, the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy, was overloaded by spectators during the wedding of Duke of Ferrara, and suffered total damage.

On May 2, 1849, the Yarmouth River suspension Bridge, in Great Yarmouth, England collapsed as the weight of the people who had crowded on to the bridge to see a circus clown go down the river in a barrel pulled by geese, shifted. Seventy nine children drowned.

On December 29, 1876, Ashtabula Railroad Bridge in Ashtabula, Ohio, collapsed, due to possible fatigue failure of cast iron elements, killing 92 people and injuring 64.

Bridges and structures can collapse due to many causes. In case of bridges, the main cause so far has been floods, erosion of the soil and undermining of the footings. Between 1966 and 2005, about 1500 bridges collapsed in USA i.e. an average of about 50 bridges per year. Hydraulic conditions, especially soil erosion around bridge supports during large floods accounted for about 60% of the collapses; ships / barge collisions and overloads accounted for about 12% each.

Some examples of bridges collapsing due to erosion or undermining of the foundations, and ship / barge collision are:

On January 27, 1938, Honeymoon Bridge and Falls View Bridge in Niagara Falls, New York and Ontario, Canada, got pushed off the foundations due to ice jam in the gorge.

On May 9, 1980, a 1200 foot section of the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge near St. Petersburg, Florida, collapsed when a ship collided with one of the piers. A Greyhound bus and six cars plummeted in Tampa Bay, killing 35 people.

The Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge over Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam, New York, gave way in April 1987. Five vehicles fell into the flooded river, killing 10 people. The collapse was blamed on flooding and soil erosion beneath the footings.

On April 1, 1989, a 54 year old bridge carrying two northbound lanes of US 51 over Hatchie River, 45 miles north of Memphis, collapsed, and killed 8 people. The collapse was blamed on shifting river.

On May 26, 2002, a runaway barge hit a bridge pier over the Arcauses River in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, forcing a 500 foot section of the bridge to cave in. Fourteen people died in that collapse.

Bridges can also collapse due to other reasons, such as earthquakes, corrosion, metal fatigue, wind effects, design faults, defective materials, poor construction and error during erection. Some examples of these are:

The Angers River Bridge in France collapsed on April 16, 1850, when soldiers marched across the bridge. The marching in steps caused resonance. This is why today the soldiers and pedestrians are told not to march in step when crossing a bridge.

Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland, California, was destroyed on October 17, 1989, during the Loma Pietra earthquake.

San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge in California, suffered significant damage and a 50 foot section of the upper deck collapsed on October 17, 1989, during the Loma Pietra earthquake.

Kizua Bridge in Pennsylvania suffered a partial collapse when it was hit by a tornado on July 21, 2003.

Caracas - La Guaira Highway Viaduct in Venezuela was demolished on March 19, 2005, by a landslide.

Silver Bridge on US 35 connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Kanauga, Ohio, collapsed suddenly on December 15, 1967, into the Ohio River. At the time of the collapse, 37 vehicles were crossing the bridge, and 31 of those vehicles fell with the bridge. Forty six people died and 9 were seriously injured. Older resident claimed that the cause of the bridge collapse was "The Curse of Cornstalk."! Chief Cornstalk, upset over his defeat at the Battle of Point Pleasant, placed a curse of death and destruction over the entire Point Pleasant area. The real cause of failure was attributed to a fracture in the eye bar, which fracture was caused by a minute crack formed during casting of the steel eye-bar!

On September 17, 2004, a major section of the Escambia Bay Bridge in Florida collapsed in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. Several hundred meters of the eastbound carriageway of the I-10 highway fell into the water. The bridge was a vital east-west corridor, carrying some 25,000 vehicles a day.

Perhaps the most famous bridge collapse in USA was the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State, in 1940. It carried State Route 16 across the Tacoma Narrows between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It was a suspension bridge. Eight foot deep plate girders were used to support the road bed. Shortly after the construction was finished in June 1940, it was discovered that the bridge would sway and buckle dangerously in relatively mild wind conditions. The resonance was transverse, meaning the bridge buckled along its length, with the road bed alternately raised and depressed in certain locations. Alternate halves of the center span would visibly rise and fall several feet over 4 to 5 second intervals. Drivers would see cars approaching from the other direction disappear into valleys. Based on this behavior, the bridge earned the nickname "Galloping Gertie", due to the apparent "galloping" motion felt by the drivers on the roadway. The bridge collapsed on November 7, 1940 at 11 A.M., under a wind of only 42 mph. The only fatality was a black male cocker spaniel dog.

Remember the "Big Dig" Project in Boston? This $14 Billion project was the most expensive civil works project in USA history. Milene DelValle was crushed to death on July 10, 2006, when a 12 Ton concrete ceiling panel from the roof of the I-90 connector tunnel fell on her car. Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff, the consortium that oversaw the design and construction of the project agreed to pay $407 million for this and other incidents on the project, and avoided criminal charges.

On July 17, 1981, many people had gathered at the Hyatt Hotel, Kansas City, to participate in or to watch the dance competition. Tens of people were on the suspended walkways or bridges over the atrium, at the second, third and fourth floor levels. Suddenly, and without much warning, the two walkways on the second and fourth floor levels failed, killing 114 people and injuring more than 200 others.

All bridges use concrete, whether it be in the foundations, piers, or bridge deck (slab). This concrete has a certain life, usually 50 years. But many bridges have been standing safely for far much longer than that, and many have failed well before 50 years. It all depends upon the quality of concrete, quality of materials, quality of construction and maintenance.

Chunks of concrete falling from bridges, or being dislodged from concrete pavements, is not that unusual, especially for older bridges. Nevertheless, these chunks, small or big, can prove to be fatal, or cause personal injury, or cause property damage. Consider the following:

Boston Globe reported on August 8, 2007 that chunks of concrete had been falling from the Tobin Bridge and breaking windshields and causing other damages to boats and cars 200 feet below, at the Chelsea Yacht Club. In the last 2 weeks, 6 boats had been damaged by debris falling from the 1525 foot long bridge over Mystic River. Last year, a piece of concrete fell and cracked the front windshield of Tummino's Infinity FX45. Tummino said: "My concern is my family, and people walking around down here. If any of these pieces hits them in the eye, it's going to be too late at that point".

In April 2003, a chunk of concrete of the South Street Bridge (SSR), in Philadelphia, fell on to I-76 prompting a closure and a quick fix. Two months later, in June 2003, another chunk fell on to the highway. In January 2006, yet another chunk of falling concrete caused a weekday closure of I-76.

On August 20, 2007, in Cumberland (Rhode Island) pieces of concrete from a bridge overpass fell on to Route 295 and damaged 3 northbound cars. This forced the closure of 2 lanes on the interstate and all four lanes of Mandon Manor Road that crosses over the highway. DOT spokesman described the falling concrete as 20 feet long, 3 inches to 4 inches wide that had apparently broken off from the edge of a support beam.

On June 1, 2007, in Boston, a local bridge sent chunks of concrete falling onto the ground, stopping one of the MBTA's busiest commuter lines in its tracks. Chunks of concrete, some weighing as much as 30 lbs, crumbled off the underside of the Speen Street Bridge.

In August 2007, in Greenbelt, Maryland, US Parks police closed parts of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway after chunks of concrete from the underside of the bridge that carries traffic on Md Route 293 or Greenbelt Road, fell on the Parkway's northbound lanes.

These are just a few examples of concrete falling off bridges. Just about every state in USA has experienced such incidents. In many cases, property damage, personal injury or even fatalities have occurred. A bridge span or pier does not have to fail completely to cause damage or death. Even chunks of concrete falling can be devastating.

Using faulty or defective materials is not that uncommon in other countries. There have been many documented cases of buildings and bridges collapsing because the Contractor used less steel than required, or less cement in the concrete than required, or used inferior quality of cement or sand in the concrete. But such incidents do occur in the US also.

Remember Amtrak's announcement about prematurely failing concrete ties? Amtrak had replaced about 3.4 million wooden railroad ties with concrete railroad ties in the early 1990s. The concrete ties were supposed to last 50+ years. However, in February 2008, Amtrak announced that the concrete ties were cracking prematurely, and needed to be replaced. Amtrak does not know how many of the concrete ties are failing prematurely. It estimates the cost to be about $25 Million this year, and about the same next year. If the concrete ties fail severely, they can not properly support the rail tracks on which the trains ride. Amtrak said that at this stage the cracked ties did not pose a danger, because the problem was caught early and is being addressed. However, the speed of the trains on these tracks has been reduced. Amtrak claims that this is a critical problem as it is delaying the trains. What would have happened if the cracks had not been caught early?

This is not the first time that concrete railroad ties have had problems. In 2006, New York's Metro North Commuter railroad sued the company that supplied the concrete ties for premature cracks in the ties purchased in 1997. The case was settled out of court.

Problems caused by bad cement or bad concrete are not necessarily limited to bridges, buildings and big structures. You, as the homeowner, could also be adversely affected by bad cement or concrete. If the soil has too much sulfate, it can attack the basement floor slabs, basement walls, sidewalks and ruin the value of your property, unless you had used the correct cement.

Many wastewater or even water treatment plants that have high sulfate soils, require the use of Type II (rather than Type I, General Use) cement, which resists sulfate attack to some degree This was the case for the Corbalis Treatment Plant in Fairfax county, Virginia. The contract required the use of Type II cement. But, did this plant get ASTM Type II cement, or non-ASTM cement that was certified as ASTM Type II cement? Will this plant have the anticipated life, or will the concrete deteriorate rapidly?

Grain silos are generally made from concrete. A collapsed tower silo is usually a catastrophe. It can entail the loss of not only the structure itself, but also much of the value of the contained silage. The silo walls, which are made of concrete, can be severely affected by the silage acids. These acids, when they come in contact with the concrete walls, react with the Portland cement matrix that binds the aggregates together, causing the concrete to lose strength.

American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure assigned an overall grade of D to 15 infrastructure categories on the basis of condition, performance, capacity and funding. The nation's highways earned a D in this Report card. There are about 597,000 bridges in the US including Puerto Rico. Of these, about 154,000 (or about 25%) are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Texas has the most bridges, about 50,000 of which about 20% are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Maryland has 5000 bridges, with about 25% being deficient or functionally obsolete; Pennsylvania has 22,000 with about 45% being deficient or functionally obsolete; Virginia has about 13,000 bridges with about 25% being deficient or functionally obsolete.

In the State of Michigan, State Transportation officials blamed bad concrete for a crumbling overpass that sent boulder sized chunks onto cars in March 2007, on I-696, and fear that 10% of Michigan's 13,000 bridges may have been built with the same material. The repair bill for each bridge is estimated to be $500,000, or a total of about $650 Million!

Although most bridges, buildings and other structures are well and carefully designed by experienced engineers and professionals; are built by experienced and reputable contractors; the construction quality is monitored by dedicated State Highway officials and consulting engineers; errors, mistakes, oversight, negligence and knowingly or unknowingly sending faulty or defective materials, do occur.

LaFarge, a very large French owned cement producer had a cement quality problem in 2004, in England. The problem cement was supplied over a 2 year period, and was used in houses, roads and bridges. LaFarge admitted that some staff had "misreported" details about alkali levels in some batches of cement. The Highway Agency in England said problems could take years to emerge. The projects where the defective cement may have been used included M4/M5 Almondsbury interchange near Bristol, M27 in Hampshire, M4 Shrub Railway Bridge in Swindon.


Excerpted from Is That Bridge Safe? by Sachinder Gupta Copyright © 2010 by Sachinder Gupta. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents


1. Bridge Failures....................1
2. Concrete Or Cement?....................15
3. Metro Ready Mix, Inc....................35
4. Essroc Cement Corp....................51
6. Trouble Starts....................65
6. Essroc's Defective Cement....................89
7. Other Customer Complaints....................167
8. The Trial....................189
9. The Verdict....................235
10. Your Loss And Risk....................243
1. Order of Judgment....................263
2. Newspaper Article....................265

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