Most Bridges Affected by Hurricane María Were Already in Critical Condition Due to Lack of Maintenance
At least 63% of the bridges that collapsed or were damaged by Hurricane María were already in a critical state of erosion prior to the storm due to lack of maintenance, putting people who cross them at risk, revealed an investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) that required an access for information lawsuit against the Highway and Transportation Authority (ACT, in Spanish). Of the 32 bridges that the ACT listed as part of the court proceeding — which collapsed or closed after the hurricane hit in September 2017 — 20 were classified as critically damaged, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) inventory of bridges that the ACT submits annually to the federal agency, reviewed by the CPI. A bridge is weakened when the material that surrounds its foundation, such as sediment, weakens or erodes, jeopardizing the structure’s capacity to sustain itself. Bridges that are over rivers with fast-flowing currents are more likely to weaken due to the impact that quick-moving water causes on the foundation of this road infrastructure. A study published in the Journal of Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in 2014 established that structural weakening is the leading cause of bridge collapse in the United States.