bridge design was the problem

I normally don’t comment on events or issues outside of the Sacramento region, but I just can’t resist commenting on the closure of Interstate 10 in southern California due to a bridge washout and collapse. Many people have used this incident as justification for devoting more money to road maintenance and bridge repair, and many more will. But this was not a maintenance problem, it was a design problem.

Below is a photo, courtesy of AZCentral (The Arizona Republic). It shows the collapsed bridge, the damaged and still closed bridge, and the old highway bridge. Notice that the bridge portion of the old highway spans the entire wash, and is entirely undamaged (I’m not claiming that the old highway is perfect – it has been damaged in other locations, if not by this flood then by other floods). The two new freeway bridges span only a portion of the wash. Caltrans engineers apparently decided that they could funnel the wash into a narrow space by armoring the abutments with rock. They were wrong, and they should have known this was an irresponsible design. Were they trying to save money, or were they so arrogant as to think nature can be pushed around? I don’t know, but clearly there was a mistake, and the mistake was not a lack of maintenance.



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