Soil Liquefaction and Highway Bridges

Posted by cdj On March - 27 - 2013

Damaged Bridge, Costa Rica, 1991

Collapsed Bridge, Japan 1964

Collapsed Bridge, Chile, 1985

For modern bridge design, soil liquefaction (and related lateral spreading of soils) is an intensively-studied earthquake damage phenomenon. Current U.S. national design guides (NCHRP Report 472 | AASHTO Guide Specifications), highway bridge retrofit guides (Part 1- Bridges, | Part 2 – abutments, etc.) and many state bridge design guides (California | New York) include geotechnical seismic requirements for site specific soil profiles, site liquefaction potential, and liquefaction remediation. These engineering design requirements are typically supported by an array of complex research studies. For example A.Faris “Probabilistic Models… “MCEER-ATC “Liquefaction Study” J.Bray and C.Ledezma “Performance based design…”R.Seed et al. “Recent Advances…”R.Boulanger and I.M.Idriss “Evaluating potential…” and many others. In a March, 2013 international bridge symposium paper, K.Tamura clearly outlines the recent history of Japanese bridge design codes responding to soil liquefaction problems following powerful earthquakes. The table below is adapted from Professor Tamura’s paper.

— History of Japanese Design Requirements of Highway Bridges for Soil Liquefaction —


With far fewer strong earthquakes than Japan on which to draw, U.S. seismic design guides for bridges rely heavily on shared international liquefaction data, on site specific empirical procedures, and on field and laboratory testing to achieve soil liquefaction prediction and remediation goals for a national road and highway bridge inventory of more than 600,000 (>20 ft. span) bridges.

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