What We’ve Learned About Infrastructure Problems From Past Bridge Collapses

During the early hours of Tuesday, March 26, a calamity occurred in Baltimore when the Francis Scott Key Bridge, spanning 1.6 miles and made of steel, was hit by the container ship Dali in the Patapsco River.

According to Popular Mechanics, we haven’t just explained why bridges technically fail; we’ve gotten to the root of America’s frustrating infrastructural challenges, highlighted the heroic teams that respond to structural disasters, and aimed to offer a playbook for how to prevent future collapses. As we unpack the tragic news out of Baltimore, where the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which carries over 12.4 million vehicles a year, buckled under the impact of the Dali, the stories in our archives emphasize the importance of being vigilant, and taking the proper preventative measures, to keep our country’s bridges safe and strong.

Here are just a few stories from PopMech that offer valuable perspectives on bridge collapses, both as teachable moments and urgent calls to action.

On December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge, which connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed into the Ohio River. The collapse, which occurred during rush hour and resulted in the loss of 46 lives, was traced to a tiny crack in a single, critical eyebar, exacerbated by a flawed design that couldn’t withstand the increased load and environmental strain. It spurred a nationwide overhaul of bridge safety protocols and inspections, and the disaster remains etched in the community’s memory, intertwined with the local legend of the Mothman … who some believe foretold the collapse.

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