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CORROSION FAILURES: Lowe’s Motor Speedway Bridge Collapse

 

Lowes Bridge 1Summary

On May 20, 2000, as hundreds of NASCAR fans left a stock car race and were crossing a pedestrian bridge to the parking lot, two loud cracks were heard. Following the second crack, an 80-foot section of the 320-foot concrete-and-steel walkway snapped in half. Pedestrians fell 17 feet to U.S. Highway 29 below, crushed by broken pieces of concrete, coolers, grills, and other pedestrians. The bridge failure injured 107 people. One man among the most injured suffered a broken back, broken pelvis, severed nerves and both legs crushed. Hospital officials said people suffered from broken bones, bruises, head and spinal injuries. At least 13 were injured critically.

Cause of Failure

Investigators identified corrosion as the cause of the span’s weakened steel supports. The corrosion was caused by calcium chloride, a highly corrosive chemical compound, which was a component of the grout surrounding the steel prestressing cables in the bridge. The chemical entered the grout when the construction company, Tindall Corp., added a mixture called Anti-Hydro to the grout at 40 times more than the acceptable amount in an attempt to expedite the drying process. Use of this mixture is banned in concrete bridges with steel prestressing cables because calcium chloride is corrosive. All 11 cables buried in the concrete were corroded causing the bridge collapse, according to Don Goins, the state’s chief engineer.


After the collapse, some engineers suggested that the corrosion was detectible from the outside and should have been discovered by inspections. Because the bridge was privately owned, it was not subject to the biannual inspections mandated on state and federally owned bridges by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) National Bridge Inspection Standards. The U.S. Department of Transportation stated that if the bridge had been thoroughly inspected, the corrosion may have been discovered before the failure.

Lowes Bridge 2Cost of Failure

Nearly 50 lawsuits were filed against the speedway and Tindall Corp. with settlement costs of millions of dollars. The $1 million walkway was built in 1995 for pedestrian traffic only, and was never inspected. A second speedway footbridge, 500 yards from the collapsed bridge, was closed after a rust spot was discovered.

Conclusion

Had a corrosion plan been in place at the commencement of the bridge’s construction, the appropriate materials would have been specified and a third party corrosion inspection would have detected issues at the time of construction. There was no consideration of corrosion control at any point during the project, and the catastrophic consequences resulted from a complete lack of lifecycle considerations.

Citations

Alsup, Renée. Bridging the Gap: How to Prevent Disasters such as the Collapse of the Lowe’s Motor Speedway Pedestrian Bridge. Prepared for Senator Elizabeth Dole. 22 Nov. 2006. Retrieved 26 Mar. 2014 from http://www.ce.utexas.edu/prof/hart/333t/documents/FinalReport3_Alsup_000.pdf


Lamb, Amanda. “Lowe’s Walkway Collapse Raises Concerns About Pedestrian Bridge Safety, Inspections.” WRAL.com. Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc., 21 May 2000. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/141306.


“More Than 100 Injured In Bridge Collapse At Lowes Motor Speedway.”Mrn.com. Motor Racing Network, 20 May 2000. Web. 26 Mar. 2014. http://www.mrn.com/Race-Series/NASCAR-Sprint-Cup/News/Articles/2000/05/More-Than-100-Injured-In-Bridge-Collapse-At-Lowes-Motor-Speedway.aspx.