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Case Studies in Construction Materials 6 (2017) 192197

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Case study

An alternative technique to the demolition of a prestressed

concrete box-girder bridge: A case study

S.S.R. Pereiraa, M.D.C. Magalhaesa, , H. Gazzinellib
Departamento de Engenharia de Estruturas, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Av. Antnio Carlos 6627, Belo Horizonte CEP: 31270-
901, Brazil
Ceprol Consultoria e Engenharia de Projetos Ltda., Av. Alvares Cabral 593, Belo Horizonte CEP: 30170-912, Brazil


Keywords: This is a case study in which the partial collapse of a prestressed concrete box-girder bridge in
Prestressed concrete box-girder bridge Brazil happened only nine days after removing the supporting scaolding. It is believed that the
Structure failure actual reinforcement longitudinal steel bars in the pile caps were underestimated. Although only
Demolition part of the structure had collapsed, it was decided that the whole structure should be demolished.
It was claimed that there was not available alternatives for in situ structural recovery that would
not compromise local trac and safety precaution procedures. This paper presents an alternative
technique for the bridge structural recovery. The application of this technique was possible
because the prestressing process used unbonded pos-tensioned concrete, i.e. the sheaths were not
lled with grout. The technique was based on the use of a weld torch to cut the tensioned strands
in the box-girders methodically, unloading the pillars and foundations. Experimental tests were
performed in loco and proved to be eective and safe. The application of this suggested
technique in situ is believed to be an original contribution to the knowledge.

1. Introduction

Prestressed concrete is usually adequate for the construction of medium and long span bridges. This type of material has found
extensive application in the construction of long-span bridges. It has gradually been used in place of steel which needs expensive
maintenance due to its inherent process of corrosion under aggressive environment conditions. One of the most commonly used forms
of superstructure in concrete bridges is precast girders with cast-in situ slab. This type of superstructure is generally used for spans
between 20 and 40 m. Box-girder bridges are very popular because of their simple geometry, low-cost fabrication, easy erection or
casting and relatively low dead loads [13].
The demolition of prestressed concrete structures is hazardous and the experience of most industries is still limited. Professional
advice must be obtained from a suitably experienced registered engineer. A demolition plan or method statement is required. The
rapid release of the stored energy in the tendons, by removing the surrounding concrete, and/or burning through the tendons, could
cause sudden failure. There is also the possibility of the tendon and its anchorage becoming a missile, especially where the tendons
were not grouted during the original construction. A sandbag screen should always be put around anchors when the post-tensioned
prestressed members are demolished.
In general, the only safe way to demolish a structure containing prestressed concrete is to dismantle the structure in the reverse
order in which it was originally erected. Some buildings will be straightforward, but special care will be needed in the following

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (M.D.C. Magalhaes).
Received 3 May 2016; Received in revised form 10 March 2017; Accepted 17 March 2017
Available online 20 March 2017
2214-5095/ 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
S.S.R. Pereira et al. Case Studies in Construction Materials 6 (2017) 192197

Fig. 1. Cross section of the box girder bridge after demolition.

circumstances: (a) Continuous structures over more than one support or cantilevered structures; (b) Suspended structures; (c)
Structures that had been progressively stressed during construction; (d) Structures made of precast members stressed together once
erected; (e) Shells, ring beams, tension ties, stressed tanks. Care must be taken in handling prestressed components. For example, long
slender beams may become unstable if allowed to tip onto their sides. In general, prestressed beams should only be supported near
their ends. Demolition using conventional methods such as balling or concrete breakers may be unsatisfactory due to the possibility
of an uncontrolled collapse, or the sudden release of the stressing steel. Ducts for post-tensioned pre-stressing tendons have been
known to oat up during concreting, causing additional hazards for demolition contractors. It may be necessary to conrm the
location of stressing cables or ducts prior to commencement.
In the next section a brief description of the viaduct design is presented. Next, the collapse of the southern handle of the viaduct
is described. After that, an experimental test was used to unload the pillars by cutting-o the box-girder strands. Finally, a brief
analyses and discussion is presented on the design and construction techniques which might have led to the viaduct structural failure.
Some conclusions are also presented.

2. The viaduct design scheme: a brief description

The viaduct was composed of two handles, namely southern and northern handles which have similar geometry and two spans.
Each one has a length equal to 77.5 meters. The northern part comprised pillars P1, P2, and P5 and the southern part pillars P2, P3 and
P4. The central pillar P3 in the southern part was the one that collapsed. This P3 pillar supported two spans of 77.5 m on each side.
The box-girder cross-sections were composed of three-cells and variable heights (see Fig. 1). Each cross-section includes two trac
The cross-section of P3 had an area equal to 200 cm 200 cm at the joint with the foundation block. Pillar P3 was linked to a
group of ten cast in situ piles (diameter equal to 80 cm) by a concrete cap with dimensions equal to 930 cm 430 cm 200 cm.

3. The collapse of P3 in the southern handle of the viaduct

The collapse occurred in the central pillar of the south part (pillar P3), nine days after removing the entire scaolding system. The
actual weight of the viaduct was not supported by the foundation. Its collapse occurred during the rush hour.
The pile cap was abruptly ruptured at the time that the rst crack was formed, i.e. nine days after the scaolding was removed.
Before the formation of the rst crack the pile cap was sti enough to transmit the total loading to all 10 piles uniformly (Fig. 2a).
On the formation of the rst crack in the cap, the longitudinal reinforcement steel bars in the block had a total area much lower than
the minimum necessary (Fig. 2b). As a result these two piles were stuck in the soil by the box-beam slab which worked as a huge pile-
driver (Figs. 3 and 4).

4. Experimental tests in situ

As mentioned before, the longitudinal steel at the bottom of the concrete cap might have been underestimated. On the other hand,
the concrete pile cap which supported pillar P5 (located on the north part of the viaduct) did not collapse even though it might have
had the same structural project. It was because the slab support system at this part of the viaduct had not been removed yet. As a
result, all pillars on the structure northern handle were demolished for precaution seventy days after the collapse of the southern
After the pillars demolition by blasting the experimental tests were performed in situ, in the girder-box. The sheath ends were

S.S.R. Pereira et al. Case Studies in Construction Materials 6 (2017) 192197

Fig. 2. Sketch showing foundation piles, caps (blocks) and pillars; (a) block before forming the rst crack; (b) block after forming the rst cracks.

exposed by removing the concrete using pneumatic hammers. The tests were performed by melting the steel wire strands using a
welding torch (Fig. 5). In this way the strands were broken and ejected in the opposite end (Fig. 6). This operation is simply, quick,
cheap and safe for applying the reverse prestressing process.

5. Analyses and discussion

After preliminary analyses it was concluded that the reason for the collapse may have been the use of insucient longitudinal
steel bars in the pile cap of pillar P3. The longitudinal reinforcement bars in the concrete cap comprised a total of 16 bars. Each bar
had a diameter equal to 16 mm and the reinforcement ratio in the block was equal to 0.037%. This ratio is much lower than the
minimum value necessary in the ultimate strength and also lower than that considered as a minimum value for bending of reinforced
concrete beams.
Considering the lower and upper limits of the concrete tensile strength and assuming the load P acting on the top of the pillar is
centered, the range of the load variation which could lead to the rst crack (positioned at a distance of 1.6 m from the gravity center
of the block) and consequently to failure was 14,370 kN < P < 21,050 kN. The characteristic strength of concrete (fck) used was
30 MPa.
The load acting on the top of the pillar after removing the scaolding of the southern handle of the viaduct was estimated on
17,750 kN. At rst glance, this load was incapable of provoking the appearance of the rst crack (Fig. 7). Due to the long term eect
of maintained load, known of Rsch eect, nine days after the application of load P on the pillar top the foundation block cracked
and failure abruptly. At this time load P was entirely transmitted to the two central piles that were stuck in the soil by the concrete
gear-box (Figs. 3 and 4).
As mentioned previously, the northern part of the viaduct had the same structural project. However, this part of the structure did
not collapsed and remained stable for seventy days after the collapse of the southern part. It is believed that the decision for

Fig. 3. Sketch showing the foundation block rupture and sinking of pillar P3.

S.S.R. Pereira et al. Case Studies in Construction Materials 6 (2017) 192197

Fig. 4. These photos show the foundation block ruptured and pillar P3 stuck in the ground. (a) side view; (b) front view.

Fig. 5. Photo showing one end of the box-girder where the steel strands were melted in situ using a weld torch.

Fig. 6. Photo showing the opposite end of the box-girder where the steel strands were ejected.

recovering the northern part could have been possible by removing partially or totally the transmitted loading to the central pillar.
Fig. 8 below illustrates the types of loading actuating on the structure.
It is believed that the concrete block of pillar P5 could have been collapsed without warning. This fact was crucial on making the
decision for not allowing workers on the viaduct. Among various ways of reducing the load on the central pillar the release of the
prestressing forces on the cables might have been one of them. Doing that, the greatest part of the box-girder slab weight would have
been supported by the scaolding, that was set-up again after the collapse of the northern handle. In other words, this would be the
reverse process of prestressing.
Several holes were made on the bridge pillars for allocation of explosives (see details on Fig. 9). As the pillars were demolished the
box-girder bridge went collapsed. Before the demolition of the bridge pillars, the supporting scaolding that was repositioned after
the collapse of the southern part was removed. After that, a hydraulic hammer and a diamond wire cutting machine were used for the

S.S.R. Pereira et al. Case Studies in Construction Materials 6 (2017) 192197

Fig. 7. Equal reaction forces on each pile emerge as a load P is acting in the gravity center of the pillar. No crack is present in the concrete cap (block).

demolition completion.

6. Conclusions

Investigations into the collapse indicated that the steel reinforcement bars used on the foundation of pillar P3 was underestimated.
The performance of the experimental tests showed that the operation of releasing the steel strands, which can be seen as the
application of the reverse method of prestressing, by melting the steel strands inside the sheath did work very well. It is believed that
the application of this technique in situ is an original contribution and an alternative to demolition. It is a cheap, safe and rapid way.
In addition, safety conditions could have been reached for the northern part of the viaduct within a short period of time (less than 70
days needed to implode and demolish the viaduct) and the trac lanes released during the process of the structure recovery. The
experimental tests were a breakthrough in non-destructive tests for in situ recovery of prestressed structures.
Usually, the set-up preparation of demolition using blasting requires a few hundreds of workers under the bridge structure. The

Fig. 8. Sketch showing scaolding system and loads being transferred to the pillars during the prestressing process; (a) Before applying pre-tension on the cables (the
pillars only support their own weight); (b) After prestressing some of the cables (the pillars are also loaded with part of the box-girder weight); (c) all cables on the box-
girder are tensioned (loading: weight of the box-girder plus their own weight).

S.S.R. Pereira et al. Case Studies in Construction Materials 6 (2017) 192197

Fig. 9. Picture showing several holes on a particular pillar for explosives allocation.

procedure is certainly much more risky in terms of the safety of workers than that related to the structural recovery. Besides, the cost
involved in the demolition process is much higher than that needed for the structure recovery. Whereas the cost of reconstruction
must be added on the demolition process, the overall cost is usually much higher.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the support provided by the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the National
Counsel of Technological and Scientic Development (Cnpq).


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(11) (2010) 22942311.
[2] Y.C. Choi, B.H. Oh, Transverse modeling of concrete box-girder for prediction of deck slab ultimate load capacity, J. Bridge Eng. 10 (2013) 13731382.
[3] S.S.R. Pereira, Desprotenso de um cabo de 27 cordoalhas de 15,2 mm com as extremidades j cortadas, YOUTUBE 50 (2014) 540548 (in Portuguese).