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The Damage, Cause of Takoma Bridge Failure

The Damage, Cause of Takoma Bridge Failure

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Published by eliasjamhour

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Published by: eliasjamhour on Nov 07, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Damage
Main cables:
 During the collapse, the mainsuspension cables were thrownviolently side to side, twisted,and tossed 100 feet into the air.They slipped from their positionsin the cable saddles atop eachtower. And, they fell hard on theapproach spans. On the northcable at mid-span, where thecable band loosened, it brokemore than 350 wires. Other wires were severely stressedand distorted. The main cableswere a total loss, but salvagewas undertaken. Their only valuewas as scrap metal.
Suspender cables:
The violent collapse broke manysuspender cables. Some werelost, some severely damaged,and some undamaged. Their only value now was as scrapmetal.
The main towers (West Tower, #4; and East Tower, #5), including the bracing struts, weretwisted and bent. Stress beyond the elastic limit of the metal resulted in buckling and permanentdistortion. Their only value now was as scrap metal.
A bridge inspector checks thedamaged cable WSDOT View of damaged cables and towerslooking west, February 1943WSDOT View from below the deck atbuckled steel beams WSDOT M3-5 Sagging east side span GHM,Bashford 2795 
Deck-Floor System:
Not surprisingly, the concrete and steel of the center span that now lay on the bottom of theNarrows was deemed a total loss. The remainder of the broken concrete on the side spansneeded removal. The floor system had sections that were bent and overstressed. Their onlyvalue now was as scrap metal.
Side Spans:
The loss of the center section, followed by the dropping of the side spans, caused substantialdamage. The events stressed and distorted the plate girders and floor beams. Some buckledbeyond repair.
 Both the West Pier (#4) and the East Pier (#5) sustained no damage. The collapse of the center span caused partial sheering of rivets that attached the towers to the tops of the piers.
The anchorages for the main cables were undamaged. For building a replacement bridge,removal of part of the concrete would be necessary in order to spin the new main cables.
Exactly where were Galloping Gertie's remains later that day?
First Investigations-Partial Answers to "Why"
The collapse of the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge stunned everyone, especially engineers.
Howcould the most "modern" suspension bridge, with the most advanced design, suffer catastrophic failure in a relatively light wind?The State of Washington
, the insurance companies, and the United States governmentappointed boards of experts to investigate the collapse of the Narrows Bridge. The FederalWorks Administration (FWA) appointed a 3-member panel of top-ranking engineers: Othmar Amman, Dr. Theodore Von Karmen, and Glen B. Woodruff. Their report was the Administrator of the FWA, John Carmody and became known as the "Carmody Board" report.
In March 1941 the Carmody Board
announced its findings."Random action of turbulent wind"in general, said the report, caused the bridge to fail. This ambiguous explanation was thebeginning of attempts to understand the complex phenomenon of wind-induced motion insuspension bridges. Three key points stood out:(1) The principal cause of the 1940 Narrows Bridge's failure was its "excessive flexibility;"(2) the solid plate girder and deck acted like an aerofoil, creating "drag" and "lift;"(3) aerodynamic forces were little understood, and engineers needed to test suspension bridgedesigns using models in a wind tunnel.
"The fundamental weakness"
of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, said a summary articlepublished in Engineering News Record, was its "great flexibility, vertically and in torsion."Several factors contributed to the excessive flexibility: The deck was too light. The deck was tooshallow at 8 feet (a 1/350 ratio with the center span). The side spans were too long, comparedwith the length of the center span. The cables were anchored at too great a distance from the
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.
Leon Moisseiff 
, 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."

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