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Bridges and El Nino

By Elizabeth Rosenberg

According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction center, this year’s El Nino event is “significant and strengthening,” evidence of this is based on current atmospheric and oceanic features, including warming sea surface temperatures. In a recent advisory report, the NOAA stated, “There is a greater than 90% chance that El Nino will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85% chance it will last into early spring 2016.”

A map shows sea surface temperatures on May 21, 2015. El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures in the Pacific and affects global temperatures and rainfall. (Credit: NOAA)

In late July 2015, an Interstate 10 bridge collapsed in between California and Arizona due to flooding. This collapse is further evidence of the critical need for infrastructure repair in the United States and has contributed to worries over more bridge and structure failures as a result of El Nino. The bridge was 48 years old and had recently passed a safety inspection less than 6 months before its collapse. Sudden and intense flooding led to the collapse, and with several dozen similar bridges on the same stretch of the interstate, anxieties are increasing as heavy rainfalls are projected in the upcoming months.

Bridge collapse in Desert Center, Calif., July 19, 2015. (Credit: KMIR)

There are 25,406 bridges in California and 8,035 in Arizona. In both states, 1 in 10 bridges are rated as structurally deficient, falling in line with the national average and meaning they require significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement due to deterioration or damage. In California and Arizona, about 17% and 13% of bridges respectively, are functionally obsolete, meaning they no longer meet current design codes. This means that in the two states, close to 1 in 4 bridges are deficient, and with numbers this extreme, it is vital for safety that they be strengthened and brought up to code standards. Infrastructure repair and improvement is a serious topic and has been at the top of the nation’s agenda for some time; state-of-the-art improvements in material and construction methods, provide a positive outlook. In a continuous effort to repair infrastructure and prevent the loss of lives and resources, HJ3 engineers innovative solutions to strengthen bridges and overpasses, repairing deficient structures with advanced composite solutions.


Arizona has 8,035 bridges

  • 256 are structurally deficient (9.91%)
  • 684 are functionally obsolete (12.82%)
  • 940 deficient (22.73%)
  • 23.71% of the area of all bridges is deficient – 10.75% is structurally deficient

California has 25,406 bridges

  • 2,501 are structurally deficient (9.84%)
  • 4,306 are functionally obsolete (16.95%)
  • 6,807 deficient (26.79%)
  • 34.61% of the area of all bridges is deficient – 11.33% is structurally deficient