Falling down

Authorities are attempting to strengthen the implementation of Road Safety Protection Regulations July 1 to reduce occurrences of accidents after four highway bridges collapsed or had integrity issues this month.

Highway bridge accidents happened in Jiangsu, Fujian, Zhejiang and Beijing. Vice Minister of Transport Feng Zhenglin said at an emergency television and telephone conference held on Sunday that they collapsed due to serious vehicle overloading.

Measures like unloading should be strictly enforced to prevent overloaded vehicles from using highway bridges. Inspection, maintenance and reinforcement of the bridges should also be strengthened, said Feng at the conference.

Highway bridge accidents

According to China News Service, on July 14, a tourist bus with 23 people on board crashed to the ground after the Gongguan Bridge in Wuyishan city, Fujian Province, collapsed. One person was killed and 22 others were injured.

The report said the collapse was caused by a seriously overloaded vehicle.

Nearly 20 hours later, a section of a bridge in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, suddenly collapsed, causing a heavy truck loaded with steel plates to fall, injuring the driver.

It was reported that before the accident, there was a six-meter-long, one-meter-wide crack on the bridge, and the overloaded heavy truck finally led to the collapse.

Separately, the 230-meter-long Baihe Bridge in Huairou district of Beijing also collapsed on July 19. No one was injured during the accident.

Liang Chaoyang, vice director of the Huairou Roadway Bureau, told the Beijing News that, according to the design of the bridge, trucks heavier than 46 tons are not allowed to use it, while the one that crushed the bridge was overloaded with 160 tons of sand.

‘Popular’ overloading

According to the Outlook Weekly, a magazine published by the Xinhua News Agency, the completed No.3 Qiantang River Bridge passed inspection in 1998 by a narrow margin. And problems were gradually exposed after it began operation.

In 2005, local authorities had to conduct a major repair on the bridge and released an order to forbid trucks from using it, said the report.

The video footage from a traffic surveillance camera on the bridge proves the ban was ineffective by showing that from January 1 to July 15 this year, thousands of overloaded trucks still used the bridge. The truck that crushed the bridge was meant to carry 60 tons, but was actually carrying 128 tons.

Bu Yizhi, a highway bridge expert at Chengdu-based Southwest Jiaotong University, Sichuan Province, told the Global Times that overloading is not uncommon since both the violators and management-level officials can take advantage of it.

“Receiving a fine instead of management as a way to deal with vehicle overloading brings money to the traffic management department, but does not effectively stop overloaded trucks from coming on the bridge,” said Bu. “On the other hand, being charged with tolls, drivers don’t think they can make profits unless they overload.”

Controversial ‘quality’

The Beijing News compared the No.3 Qiantang River Bridge, open for fewer than 14 years, with the Qiantang River Bridge, which has stood over the same river for 74 years. The publication said there are also overloaded vehicles traveling on the latter, but it has not gone through major repairs.

The report also provides a list of highway bridges praised by Web users as “persistent bridges,” which includes the 54-year-old Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge, and the 43-year-old Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge.

Shan Shibing, a media commentator, wrote on his blog that the quality of these historical bridges overshadows the poor quality of younger ones.

Bu told the Global Times that considering the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge had forbidden trucks from passing through for years, and bridges like Qiantang River Bridge and the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge were built according to the higher construction standard of railway bridges, simply comparing them with recent collapsed bridges is not scientific.

However, Bu doesn’t deny the quality problems of the short-life bridges.

He said in the 30 years since the reform and opening-up policy, the country has seen a quick rise of highway bridges.

“To save money, the investment fund is usually low. Plus some corrupted officials are still taking a share of the spoils in any possible procedure including public bidding, the construction or management,” he said.

“But forbidding vehicle overloading is still necessary,” Bu told the Global Times. “If all vehicles abide by the bridges’ standard load, the lifespan of the bridge will be longer.”

Global Times

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