Historical Development of Bridge Scour Evaluations

by E. V. Richardson, (F.ASCE),

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: North American Water and Environment Congress & Destructive Water


Scour of bridge foundations (piers and abutments) is the largest single cause of bridge failures in the United States. Conversely, uncertainties of the scour depth at bridge piers and abutments often results in over-design, which increases costs. Systematic scour research started in 1949 with the work of E.M. Laursen. Much of his results did not get into practice until the 1960s, and even then, not all the states used his results. In addition, his research and the research of others did not include many of the bridge scour situations. Furthermore, it was not until 1988 that specific, unified procedures for the evaluation of bridges for stream instability and scour was given by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). These procedures were issued as the result of the 1987 I-90 bridge failure over Schoharie Creek in New York. The history of stream instability and bridge scour research and the people most involved are given in this paper. Unfortunately, time and space do not allow for the inclusion of the research history on risk, costs, and determination of the design discharge.

Subject Headings: Scour | Bridge failures | Bridge foundations | Bridge abutments | Rivers and streams | Bridge tests | Failure analysis | United States | New York

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