Redundancy Evaluation of Fracture Critical Bridges

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Cases of brittle fractures in major bridges prompted AASHTO to publish its first fracture control plan in 1978. It focused on material and fabrication standards, and required periodic 24-month hands-on inspection of bridges with fracture critical members. The practical result of this plan was to significantly increase the life cycle cost of these bridges, rendering them uneconomical. Apart from the Point Pleasant Bridge that failed in 1967, no other bridge has collapsed in the USA following a fracture, even though large fractures have been observed in many other bridges. All these bridges showed some degree of redundancy and therefore could be reclassified as non-fracture critical if detailed analyses are carried out.

The goal of this study is to provide guidance on redundancy evaluation of fracture critical bridges, specifically three girder bridges and twin box-girder bridges. The effect of various loading, analysis and geometric parameters on the post fracture response and the remaining load carrying capacity of the damaged bridge is evaluated through nonlinear finite element analysis of two well-documented structures: the Hoan Bridge and the twin box-girder bridge. Parameters such as damping definition, modelling of composite action, modelling of secondary elements, boundary conditions, and rate dependent material properties are found to be crucial in capturing the bridge response.

A two-step methodology for system redundancy analysis of fracture critical bridges is proposed, leading to a reclassification of these elements as non-fracture critical for in-service inspection. The first step evaluates bridge capacity to withstand collapse following fracture based on whether the residual deformation is perceivable to people on or off the bridge. If the bridge satisfies the first step requirements, then the reserve load carrying capacity of the damaged bridge is evaluated in the second step. The Hoan Bridge failed to satisfy the proposed requirements in the first step and therefore its girders could not be reclassified as non-fracture critical. The twin box-girder bridge successfully resisted the collapse in two out three loading scenarios and displayed reserve load carrying capacity following full depth fracture in the exterior girder, and therefore can be reclassified as non-fracture critical for in-service inspection.



Fracture critical bridges, Finite element analysis, Redundancy