side spans. The width of the deck was extremely narrow compared with its center span length,an unprecedented ratio of 1 to 72.
The pivotal event in the bridge's collapse
, said the Board, was the change from verticalwaves to the destructive twisting, torsional motion. This event was associated with the slippageof the cable band on the north cable at mid-span.Normally, the main cables are of equal lengthwhere the mid-span cable band attaches them to the deck. When the band slipped, the northcable became separated into two segments of unequal length. The imbalance translated quicklyto the thin, flexible plate girders, which twisted easily. Once the unbalanced motion began,progressive failure followed.
The investigation Board's most significant finding
was simple and obvious: the engineeringcommunity must study and better understand aerodynamics in designing long suspensionbridges.
Meanwhile, Professor F. B. Farquharson
continued wind tunnel tests. He concluded that the"cumulative effected of undampened rhythmic forces" had produced "intense resonantoscillation." In other words, the bridge's lightness, combined with an accumulation of windpressure on the 8-foot solid plate girder and deck, caused the bridge to fail.
, who was contacted immediately after the failure, said he was "completely at aloss to explain the collapse." Moisseiff visited the ruined bridge one week later, touring under the watchful eye of Clark Eldridge. Moisseiff's design, while pushing beyond the boundaries of engineering practice, fully met the requirements of accepted theory at the time.
"Blind Spot"-- Design Lessons of Gertie's Failure
At the time the 1940 Narrows Bridge failed
, the small community of suspension bridgeengineers believed that lighter and narrower bridges were theoretically and functionally sound.In general, leading suspension bridge designers like David Steinman, Othmar Amman, andLeon Moisseiff determined the direction of the profession. Very few people were designingthese huge civil works projects. The great bridges were extremely expensive. They presentedimmensely complicated problems of engineering and construction. The work was sharply limitedby government regulation, various social concerns, and constant public scrutiny. A handful of talented engineers became pre-eminent. But, they had what has been called a "blind spot."
That "blind spot"
was the root of the problem. According to bridge historian David P. Billington,at that time among suspension bridge engineers, "there seemed to be almost no recognitionthat wind created vertical movement at all."
The best suspension bridge designers
in the 1930s believed that earlier failures hadoccurred because of heavy traffic loading and poor workmanship. Wind was not particularlyimportant. Engineers viewed stiffening trusses as important for preventing sideways movement(lateral, or horizontal deflection) of the cables and the roadway. Such motion resulted fromtraffic loads and temperature changes, but had almost nothing to do with the wind.
This trend ran in virtual ignorance
of the lessons of earlier times. Early suspension bridgefailures resulted from light spans with very flexible decks that were vulnerable to wind(aerodynamic) forces. In the late 19th century engineers moved toward very stiff and heavysuspension bridges. John Roebling consciously designed the 1883 Brooklyn Bridge so that itwould be stable against the stresses of wind. In the early 20th century, however, says David P.Billington, Roebling's "historical perspective seemed to have been replaced by a visualpreference unrelated to structural engineering."