Why Do Bridges Collapse in Russia?

Why Do Bridges Collapse in Russia?

Photo: http://www.orenday.ru/

Two automobile bridges collapsed in Russia lately. One emergency occurred in the Irkutsk Region, the other – on the outskirts of Orenburg. This is not just one-off case.

About a hundred of such accidents occur in our country over a year. 2018 is still the record year in this matter, when more than 100 bridges fell in Russia, some of the accidents involved fatalities. We decided to figure out what is wrong with our bridges.


On December 2, a bridge connecting the Zagorodnoye Highway and Tereshkova Street collapsed at the exit from Orenburg. At that moment, two vehicles were crossing it – Lada Priora and a Mersedes dump truck loaded with rock chips, which, according to the preliminary version, caused the accident. The weight of the heavy truck was about 50 ton, while the bridge had been designed for only 30 ton.

However, the drivers claim that no sign restricting the weight of a vehicle was installed at the entrance. In evidence, they show a video record made several hours before the accident. The sign appeared only the morning after. Moreover, the road maintenance company apparently decided to be on the safe side and restricted allowed weight to 25 ton.

As a result of the accident, two people were injured – a 32-year-old truck driver and a 56-year-old man driving at that moment under the bridge (there is another road under it too). A 150-meter section of the viaduct is damaged and needs to be replaced.

Irkutsk Region

On December 3, a similar incident occurred on the road between Ust-Kut and Kirensk at the crossing of the Makarovka River. The automobile bridge could not bear the weight of the 60-ton Scania timber truck and collapsed. The driver ignored the sign prohibiting the trucks from driving here.

However, it is difficult to blame him because there is simply no other way. In summer, a detour is available for heavy vehicles but it is closed for winter, which forces heavy trucks to violate traffic rules.

Now traffic on this section of the road is closed. For cars, an ice crossing of the river is organized. Freight traffic is stopped. Locals are worried because this is the only road connecting Kirensk with Irkutsk.

Who is to blame and what to do?

These two cases quite objectively reflect the situation in the country as a whole. But we will dwell on each of the points that affect the safety of bridges.

1. Overload.

At first glance, it seems that drivers who fail to comply with the rules are to blame, and we do not suggest to relieve them of responsibility. However, we should delve deeper into the problem to understand why the fault lies not only with them.

A significant part of the bridges in our country was built in 1970–1980. At that time, they were built based on the assumption that the average weight of a loaded dump truck or trailer is 10–18 tons. Today, 30–60-ton vehicles drive across them. It means that all of these structures must at least be strengthened. Another option is to replace them with bridges that meet current requirements. So far, only large cities and federal highways can afford this, whereas secondary roads and towns do not always have money for this.

2. Lack of bridges.

In 2014, 72,500 bridges operated in Russia, despite the fact that there are more than 3 million rivers in the country. Experts say that the United States, where a quarter of a million rivers flow, have more than 600,000 bridges. The pace of bridges construction is also falling. According to Rosstat, from 2005 to 2015, the share of bridge construction decreased from 12.8 % to 8.7 % of the total scope of road construction. In 2016, this number rose to 9.1 %.

3. Lack of signs and restrictions.

The traffic police is responsible for the correct location of road signs. After all, a driver is not always able to visually assess the bridge capacity. However, sometimes road services play safe and intentionally underestimate acceptable values. Knowing this, drivers drive at their own peril and risk.

Yet, modern technology can improve the safety of bridges in such cases. For example, under the asphalt, weight sensors can be installed that weigh each vehicle and the electronic panel above the road shows whether a vehicle is allowed to travel and recommends an acceptable speed.

In addition, it is thus possible to limit the passage on the bridge of two or more heavy trucks at a time. After all, a convoy of several loaded trucks significantly increases the risk of collapsing.

4. Poor bridge maintenance.

But back to today's road realities. Unfortunately, we lack not only modern technologies but sometimes even basic tools and human resources. According to the instructions, a road master must carry out supervision every 10 days, in spring and autumn (after ice freezing and ice drift) an in-depth technical inspection must be carried out, and once every five years a scheduled testing must be performed.

However, this all has to be done by specialists, whose number is constantly decreasing. For example, in 2019, the Moscow Automobile and Road Construction State Technical University more than halved the number of budget-sponsored places for students studying bridges and tunnels.

Moreover, it is worth considering the current sad state of bridges, because a tenth of them is wooden. So, for example, more than 60 % of such structures in the Arkhangelsk Region and about 40 % in the Irkutsk Region are made of wood.

5. Misuse of funds.

We would be wrong to say that no funds are allocated for the repair and construction of bridges. There are really poor regions where there is not enough finance for this. But even when large sums are allocated for repair and construction of bridges, they are sometimes spent inappropriately. Unbelievable money is spent on the construction of one bridge, while others are maintained with what is left.

Еhe director of Transsakhamost Vasily Mazur gives examples of several bridges with similar characteristics and very different cost for comparison. For example, two reinforced concrete flights on the Vilyui highway across the Kenkeme River cost 200 million rubles and were built in almost two years, while the 36-meter single-span bridge in the Yakutsk village of Sottintsy was built by Transsakhamost in less than a month for 24 million rubles.

The editor of the "Construction" Information Agency Alexander Gusev believes that theft and corruption flourished in the Soviet era either. Components of poorer quality were used than was necessary by the standards, cement was stolen. Therefore, these bridges deteriorate faster than expected. Of course, this does not justify today's sloppy attitude to the issue. However, it may well play a role.

“The eternal contradiction and paradox of our country – the finance, human and material resources are enough to implement such planetary-scale projects as, for example, the Crimean Bridge or the bridge across the Lena River. But when it comes to small wooden bridges, which sometimes are the only road to the main land for villages and settlements, neither the regional, nor even the federal authorities get around to them. It is quite understandable – they are too insignificant to earn any publicity, fame, or votes in elections. I’m afraid to upset regional officials, but with the current level of deterioration of just these small provincial bridges, such incidents will be repeated more often,” political analyst Dmitry Melnikov told wek.ru.