The Strategist

Hundreds of European bridges are in critical condition

08/20/2018 - 15:47

The tragedy in Genoa prompted Europeans to take a closer look at bridges on the continent. A quick overview brought alarming results: the state of the transport infrastructure in the Old World and, first of all, the bridges, leaves much to be desired.

According to the updated data, 38 people were killed as a result of collapse of the bridge in the Italian Genoa. Moreover, this mournful figure can grow as two dozen people are considered missing. They can be buried under the rubble.

Of course, Italy was the first to ring the alarm bell. Checking bridges on the peninsula in the hot pursuit of the tragedy in Genoa brough disappointing conclusions: 300 Italian bridges are in emergency condition and may collapse at any time. Among them is a bridge near the Sicilian town of Agrigento, designed by the engineer Riccardo Morandi, the author and the ill-fated bridge in Genoa. The island’s authorities have already blocked traffic on this bridge, referring to structural damages in the poles.

Shares of Autostrade per l'Italia, a holding company and operator of the bridge and roads nearby, plummeted on the Milan Stock Exchange after the government promised to revoke its license.

Most of the bridges and roads in Italy were built in the 50-60s of the last century and are in poor condition. The shelf life of concrete, from which they are made, is exactly 50-60 years, depending on the concrete’s brand. 

Italy’s neighbor, France was frightened by the speech of the Minister of Transport of France. Élisabeth Borne warned that the French roads are in a "critical condition". A recent inspection conducted by the government showed that one third of bridges needed urgent repairs, and 841 engineering structures were threatened by the potential risk of collapse. Results of this audit were published in July and did not attract much attention. Now the situation, of course, has changed.

"Of the 12,000 French bridges, a third needs to be repaired," the report says, "mainly they require cosmetic repair in order to exclude structural changes. In 7% of cases, the damage is quite serious. It can lead to collapse. It is necessary to close these bridges for heavy vehicles, and maybe for all cars."

Minister Borne promised to introduce a draft law that will contain a conclusion on the state of the road infrastructure in September. The government proposes to allocate 1 billion EU for urgent repairs.

"All bridges will be inspected annually," the French Transport Minister promised. "Every three years there will be a complete inspection... About 50% of the road surface needs repair, every tenth bridge is in poor condition," she summed up.

By the way, the last emergency related to bridges in France happened relatively recently. On May 15, the retaining wall of the viaduct collapsed on the A15 highway in the region of Gennevilliers, located north-west of Paris.

The Federal Road Research Institute in Germany conducted a similar study last year. The result is also alarming: state of 12.4% of German bridges causes serious concerns. And only 12.5% of German bridges are in an absolutely good condition, that is, every eighth of them need to be repaired urgently. Many bridges were built in the 60-70s of the last century and are not designed for a very lively movement of our days. By the way, thanks to the renovation program adopted after reunification of the two Germanys, the state of the bridges in the East of Germany is better than in the west. There, movement of heavy vehicles is already prohibited along a number of bridges, including the Leverkusen Bridge across the Rhine north of Cologne.

According to European standards, road infrastructure monitoring, including, of course, bridges, is organized quite well in Germany. Still, the country is often criticized for insufficient funding at the regional level.

According to the TNL company, bridges that are under jurisdiction of cities and provinces are in alarming condition in Holland. Bridges of federal significance are somehow better. Financieele Dagblad newspaper reported that there are 14 bridges in an emergency condition only in the province of North Holland.

The Bulgarian government announced plans to repair more than 200 bridges, most of which were built 35-40 years ago. Bulgaria is considered the poorest country in the European Union. Modernization of transport infrastructure will be held at the expense of EU money.