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New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges

N. Priestley1, S. Sedra2, G. Forster2 and M. Bennett2

University of California and the Rose School
Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW

Abstract Currently, seismic design of bridges in Australia is carried out in

accordance with Section 14 of AS 5100.2:2004. The design process is similar to
that in AS 1170.4:1993 but focused on bridges rather than buildings. Some of the
design parameters used in AS 5100.2 directly reference AS 1170.4:1993.
However, due to the update of AS 1170.4 published in 2007, the references in
AS 5100.2:2004 are now out-of-date. This paper discusses the work carried out
under Austroads Project TS 1599 Guidelines for Seismic Design of Australian
Bridges as detailed in the project report. The project reviewed current design
codes and highlighted updates required to Section 14 of AS 5100.2:2004 to accord
with AS 1170.4:2007. AS 5100.2:2004 uses the principles of the conventional
Force-Based Design Method (FBDM) with generalised acceleration spectra to
determine the relevant seismic actions. Project TS 1599 provides an alternative
approach, using the principles of the Displacement-Based Design Method
(DBDM). The DBDM assesses the effects of seismic events by considering
displacements and strains of the deformed structural elements in contrast with the
FBDM approach which only considers forces and subsequent design action
effects. The DBDM enables designers to predict a structure’s behaviour and/or
damage from the design seismic event, and provides a tool to check whether a
structure can be exempted from specific seismic design provisions. The project
also reviews the current seismic detailing provisions in AS 5100.5. The outcomes
of the project will be submitted to Standards Australia for incorporation into the
revision of AS 5100 currently underway.

V. Ponnampalam, H. Madrio and E. Ancich 29

Sustainable Bridges: The Thread of Society
AP-G90/11_030© ABC 2011
30 N. Priestley, S. Sedra, G Forster and M Bennett


An update of the current seismic design provisions in Section 14 of

AS 5100.2:2004 [1] was considered essential, as the provisions are based on
AS 1170:1993 [2] that was updated in 2007 [3], following which AS 5100.2
became incompatible with AS 1170.4. During Austroads Project TS 1599 [4] a
review of AS 5100.2:2004 highlighted the following:
• The low level of seismicity considered for seismic design of major bridges.
Design for a return period of 500 years with an importance multiplier of 1.25 is
equivalent to an annual probability of exceedance of 1/625, compared to
1/2000 for other types of ultimate loads;
• The lack of guidance given regarding issues such as distribution of base shear
and the detailing of bridges with an assumed response factor greater than 2;
• Discrepancies between AS 5100.2 and AS 1170.4 on issues such as
combination of directional forces, combination of vertical and horizontal
forces, torsional effects and scaling of forces calculated by dynamic analysis.
As seismic activity in Australia is relatively small compared to countries located at
tectonic plate boundaries, it is expected that most Australian bridges will respond
in an elastic manner to the design level of seismicity. However, the Australian
bridge design code does not check the actual behaviour and capacity of structures
under seismic loads. AS 5100.2 (for bridges) and AS 1170.4 (for buildings) use
the Force Based Design Method (FBDM), which assumes elastic behaviour for all
structures, with reduced seismic loads for structures deemed capable of deforming
in a ductile manner whether members reach yield or not.

The use of forces rather than displacements to simulate seismic actions may
mislead designers. For example, consider a bridge with unequal pier heights but
similar pier cross-section dimensions, as in Figure 1. The shorter piers are the
stiffer. According to the FBDM, horizontal earthquake forces will be distributed
between the piers in proportion to 1/h3. Therefore bending moment and
reinforcement ratios are approximately in proportion to 1/h2. To resist the
increased earthquake effects, the reinforcement ratio of the short piers relative to
the long piers is increased, which further increases the relative stiffness of the
short piers, which will attract higher shear forces and bending moments,
increasing their susceptibility to failure. Additionally, the displacement capacity of
the short piers is decreased by increasing their reinforcement ratio which makes
the piers stiffer and less capable of withstanding earthquake effects.
New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges 31

Fig. 1. Bridge with Unequal Pier Heights

The use of performance based seismic design that simulates the behaviour of
bridges under seismic events is required, noting that the international trend in
earthquake design is moving in that direction. The Displacement Design Method
(DBDM) was regarded as a more realistic design approach, in which structure
displacements under the design seismic event (i.e. displacement demand) will not
cause unacceptable damage (i.e. will not exceed limiting strains/displacements).

Overview of Austroads Project TS 1599 Report

Project TS 1599 [4] was instigated by Austroads in 2009 following the publication
of interim rules for seismic design of bridges by individual state road authorities
after a realisation that the update of AS 1170.4 in 2007 meant that it was no longer
compatible with AS 5100.2, and that the specified return period of 500 years for
earthquake design was not adequate for an ultimate design event.

The project report is written in a format suitable for submission to Standards

Australia for incorporation in the current revision of the AS 5100 bridge design
code. The report comprises three main sections:
1. Section 14 of AS 5100.2 updated to be compatible with AS 1170.4:2007 [3];
2. DBDM introduced as an alternative seismic design approach;
3. Current provisions for concrete pier detailing in AS 5100.5 [5] revised.
The report includes commentaries that explain the rationale and the basis of the
work and four worked examples.
32 N. Priestley, S. Sedra, G Forster and M Bennett

Update of Seismic Design in AS 5100.2

Section 14 of AS 5100.2 was revised to accord with AS 1170.4:2007, with

adjustment of design parameters to suit bridges rather than buildings. The design
method uses the acceleration spectra provided in AS 1170.4:2007. The design
procedure, which depends on the bridge earthquake design category (BEDC), is
explained below and is illustrated in Figure 2.
1. Adopt an annual probability of exceedance ‘P’ of 1/2000, which invokes a
probability factor ‘kp’ of 1.7.
2. Determine the seismic Hazard Factor ‘Z’ using the earthquake hazard table and
maps in AS 1170.4:2007.
3. Determine site sub-soil class type in accordance with AS 1170.4:2007.
4. Determine the Bridge Earthquake Design Category (BEDC) from a revised
matrix table that is based on pier height, bridge span, sub-soil class and bridge
importance level.
5. Calculate the seismic elastic forces, and apply a reduction to those forces using
a ductility factor ‘µ’ where applicable.
Determine hazard factor ‘Z’

Annual Probability of Exceedance ‘P’=1/2000 and probability factor ‘kp’ = 1.7

Look up sub-soil class (Section 4 of AS 1170.4-2007)

Determine BEDC


• Use static or • Use dynamic

Yes Is there
dynamic analysis analysis
No need a clear dominant
• No need to include • Combine horizontal
for seismic mode?
vertical seismic and vertical forces
forces • Add P-∆ effects
• Apply seismic No • Apply seismic
detailing provisions detailing provisions

• Use static or dynamic analysis • Use dynamic analysis

• Combine horizontal and vertical seismic forces • Combine horizontal and vertical forces
• Add P-∆ effects • Add P-∆ effects
• Apply seismic detailing provisions • Apply seismic detailing provisions

Fig. 2. Updated Seismic Design Procedure for Bridges Using the FBDM
New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges 33

Design forces for ductile seismic response are calculated from the elastic response
reduced by the ductility factor ‘µ’. The values of µ range from 1.0 to 4.0
depending on the bridge materials and structural system. Two sets of µ values are
given in the report, depending on the level of damage accepted for the earthquake
event, the first being for the ultimate (damage control) limit state and the second
for the serviceability limit state.

For the ultimate (damage control) limit state, residual cracks and concrete cover
spalling may occur in plastic hinge regions of bridge piers. However, in most
cases, bridges are expected to remain serviceable during repair operations. For the
serviceability limit state, ductility levels are set such that only minor inelastic
action should occur during the design level seismic excitation. Residual crack
widths will be sufficiently small so that remedial action will not be required.
Strains in cover concrete will not reach a level where incipient spalling might
occur. Residual displacements will be negligible and will not impede the normal
use of the bridge.

Bridges deemed to be lifeline by the relevant authority are to be designed for the
serviceability limit state, with this option also being open for all bridges.

Major Conceptual Changes to Australian Seismic Design

Austroads Project TS 1599 proposes major changes to seismic design concepts

that apply regardless of the design approach (i.e. FBDM or DBDM), as follows:

Change to Bearing Seat Formula

The existing bearing seat length ‘Lbs’ formula in AS 5100.2 is dependant on the
length of the bridge, but ignores the effect of out-of-phase displacements which
depend on pier height. The thermal, creep and shrinkage components in the
existing formula are overestimated by a factor of about 4 [4]. The following
equation is proposed.
Lbs = Δ (1.5) + 0.0004 Ld + 0.007 hd + 0.005W ≥ 0.3m (1)
‘Ld’ is length of the superstructure to the next expansion joint;
‘hd’ is average pier height;
‘Ld’ is superstructure length;
‘W’ is seating width transverse to bridge axis; and
‘Δ(1.5)’ is defined as the corner-period displacement as described in Figure 3
34 N. Priestley, S. Sedra, G Forster and M Bennett

The third expression in Equation 1 reflects the rotation of the pier foundation
associated with traveling seismic surface waves. The fourth expression reflects
the transverse displacement due to the support rotation about the vertical axis.

Frame-by-Frame Analysis

For longitudinal seismic response, each frame is analysed separately and the
results compared with a further analysis assuming fully closed joints. For
transverse seismic response, each frame is considered separately, with the mass
and stiffness of adjacent frames modeled at the movement joint if the fundamental
period of the adjacent frame differs by more than 25% from that of the frame
under consideration. The provisions simplify the analysis, particularly the
modelling of movement joints, and account for the large variations in stiffness of
adjacent frames. The provisions also recognize that coherent seismic excitation of
piers of long bridges is unlikely.

Plastic Hinge Moment Capacity

Expected material strengths (overstrengths) rather than nominal strengths should

be used for the design of plastic hinges. A safe hierarchy of strength applies to
ensure that brittle failure (such as shear failure) will not occur. Unless moment-
curvature analysis accounting for the material overstrength is carried out during
design for flexure, the shear capacity required in potential plastic hinges is to
correspond to the nominal flexural capacity increased by 40%.

Capacity reduction factors are not used when calculating the section strength at
plastic hinges. With ductile design, plastic hinges reach their actual capacity
regardless of whether conservative or realistic material strengths are used. Safety
is not significantly influenced by increasing flexural strength, but economy is
adversely affected [6][7].

Moreover, gravity design actions are ignored when determining the required
moment capacity of plastic hinges. The current approach of combining gravity
moments assuming elastic stiffness, and seismic moments recognizing inelastic
response, is illogical and excessively conservative [6][7].
New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges 35

Detailing of Concrete Bridge Piers

Detailing is the most important aspect of providing for safe seismic response,
particularly for earthquakes greater than the design intensity, which could well
occur. The following column design provisions are recommended in the report to
replace the existing provisions in Section 10 of AS 5100.5 for bridges in BEDC2
to BEDC4.
• Area of longitudinal reinforcement to gross area of pier cross-section ratio is to
be between 0.008 and 0.04.
• Longitudinal reinforcement not to be spliced by welding or mechanical splicing
in plastic hinge zones, unless sufficient testing is carried out to ensure
satisfactory behaviour during seismic events.
• The spacing of restraints for longitudinal reinforcement of columns expected to
remain elastic under seismic response, as per the existing provisions, may be
eased to the lesser of 0.4Dc and 15db, where ‘Dc’ is the column diameter and
‘db’ is the diameter of the smallest bar in the column. The existing arbitrary
300 mm spacing will be deleted, as there is no basis for it.
• In plastic hinge zones, the spacing of restraints to the longitudinal
reinforcement will be limited to the lesser of 0.2Dc and (3+6(fu/fy – 1))db, where
‘fu’ and ‘fy’ are the ultimate and yield stress of the longitudinal bars.
• Current provisions of AS 5100.5 for minimum confinement/pier core
volumetric ratio in plastic hinge zones are to be relaxed and extended to apply
to ties, as follows:
• ρs ≥ 0.1f’c/fsy.f for ties and As/s ≥ 0.025f’cDc/fsy.f for helices
• If DBDM is used in design, the confinement ratio in plastic hinge zones will be
dependent on the extent of ductile behaviour of the pier during the design
seismic event.
• The minimum confinement reinforcement/pier core volumetric ratio to be 0.005.
• Bundled bars used as longitudinal reinforcement for seismic design to be
limited to two bars per bundle.

DBDM for Seismic Design of Bridges

The DBDM detailed in the Austroads TS 1599 report is intended for inclusion in
the revised bridge code as an alternative seismic analysis method. The method
was prepared in a compatible format with the FBDM described above. As with
the FBDM, not all bridges will be required to be designed for earthquake actions.
36 N. Priestley, S. Sedra, G Forster and M Bennett

As described below, designing using the DBDM involves two procedures:

1. Checking whether the bridge will behave in an elastic manner during design
seismic events; and
2. Carrying out specific seismic design where ductile behaviour is confirmed.

Checking of Bridge Behavior during Design Seismic Events

This procedure enables designers to check whether a bridge designed for dead and
live loads will respond elastically to the design level of seismicity. The procedure
essentially comprises the following steps:
1. Determine the design elastic displacement ‘∆(T)’of bridge pier/s at fundamental
period ‘T’ of the bridge, using Equation 2.
Δ(T) = kpZΔh(T) (2)

• where ‘Z’ and ‘kp’ are as specified above, and ‘Δh(T)’ is the displacement
spectrum for the site which depends sub-soil class, as illustrated in Figure 3.

Soil Ee

800 Soil De

Soil Ce
Soil Be
Soil Ae

1 2 3

Fig. 3. Displacement Spectra for Different Sub-soil Classes

2. Calculate the yield displacement capacity of pier/s ‘Δy’ illustrated in Figure 4.

‘Δy’ depends on pier geometry and detailing (from design for dead and live
loads) and end boundary conditions. For prismatic and cylindrical piers, ‘Δy’
may be calculated from Equation 3.
New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges 37

Δy = C1φy(H+Lsp)2+Δyf+Δb (3)
‘C1’ is a coefficient dependant on pier end fixity conditions;
‘Δyf’ and ‘Δb’ are foundation and pier-cap bearing displacements, respectively; and
‘φy’ is the section curvature at yield.


pile elastic
rotation at hinge
yield post-yield

Fig. 4. Yield and Post-Yield (Ductile) Displacements of Bridge Piers

3. Compare the design elastic displacement ‘∆(T)’ (i.e. design action effects) and
the yield capacity ‘Δy’ (i.e. strength). If ‘∆(T)’does not exceed ‘Δy’, the pier/s
will behave elastically and no further specific design is required for the bridge.

As a simplification, ‘∆(T)’ may be calculated at ‘T’ of 1.5 seconds (i.e. the corner-
period) instead of the bridge fundamental period ‘T’. It is expected that ‘∆(1.5)’
will not exceed ‘Δy’ for most Australian bridges. However, if this condition fails,
calculate ‘T’ and subsequently ‘∆(T)’ in accordance with the procedure illustrated
in Figure 5.
38 N. Priestley, S. Sedra, G Forster and M Bennett

Determine hazard factor ‘Z’

Annual Probability of Exceedance ‘P’=1/2000 and probability factor ‘kp’ = 1.7

Look up sub-soil class (Section 4 of AS 1170.4-2007)

Determine design elastic displacement of pier/s at the corner-period ‘Δ(1.5)’

Calculate yield displacement capacity of pier ‘Δy’

Δy ≥ Δ(1.5)?


Determine the fundamental period of the bridge ‘T’

Determine design elastic displacement at the fundamental period ‘Δ(T)’

Yes Is No
Δy ≥ Δ(T)?

The bridge will behave in a ductile manner

No further specific seismic design under design seismic action, and a specific
is required for the bridge seismic design is required

Fig. 5. Procedure to Check Whether Specific Seismic Design is Required

Carrying out Specific Seismic Design Using the DBDM

To carry out seismic design of bridges undergoing ductile behaviour, the bridge
can be represented as a single degree of freedom (SDOF) structure as illustrated in
Figure 6a. The seismic response of the equivalent SDOF structure is represented
by an effective mass ‘me’ and an effective stiffness ‘keff’ that is less than the elastic
stiffness ‘kel’ as illustrated in Figure 6b.
New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges 39

The design of ductile structures to withstand earthquake forces essentially depends

on two factors:
1. Limiting the deformations from the design seismic event; and
2. Dissipating (or damping) the earthquake energy within the structure.
The ductile displacement of piers ‘Δd’ depends on the pier material type and
design details, and on the permissible strain limits.

me Fu keff
F Fy

he kel

∆y ∆d
a. Equivalent SDOF Structure b. Force vs. Displacement
Fig. 6. Representation of Bridges as SDOF structures

The DBDM specifies strain limits for the ultimate (damage control) and the
serviceability limit states, similar to the FBDM. The strain limits for the
serviceability limit state are smaller than those for the ultimate limit state.

Damping depends on bridge material type and magnitude of ductile displacement.

Figure 7a shows the relationship between structure ductility (i.e. ductile to yield
displacement ratio) and damping for different materials. The figure shows that the
higher the ductility the higher the damping ‘ξ’.

ξ = 5%
Damping ‘ξ’ %


ξ = 10%

ξ = 15%
ξ = 20%

Unbonded prestress

Ductility ‘µ’ Effective Period ‘Teff’

a. Structure Ductility vs. Damping b. Ductile Displacement vs. Effective Period

Fig. 7. Design Parameters for Ductile Structures

40 N. Priestley, S. Sedra, G Forster and M Bennett

The design ductile displacement ‘∆d(T)’ is calculated from the elastic

displacement ‘∆(T)’ reduced by a damping modifier ‘Rξ’, as in Equation 4.
Δd(T)= RξΔ(T) (4)

Damping also increases the effective period of the structure. Figure 7b shows
schematically the relationship between damping and ductile displacement for
different damping levels. After the required ductility is determined, the damping
and other design parameters are then calculated.
The design actions ‘Δd(T)’ are not to exceed the pier ductile capacity ‘Δd’.
The specific seismic design procedure is presented in Figure 8.

Determine the acceptable maximum strain limits for design limit state

Calculate pier displacement corresponding to the strain limit ‘Δls’

Calculate the displacement ductility of the piers ‘µ’ (µ = Δls/Δy)

Calculate equivalent viscous damping ‘ξ’ (as in Figure 7a)

Calculate the damping modifier ‘Rξ’

Calculate the effective period ‘Teff ’ of the ductile bridge (as in Figure 7b)

Calculate design ductile displacement ‘∆d(Teff)’ (Equation 4)

Increase pier confinement

Is or change geometry
Δls ≥ Δd(Teff)?


Calculate effective stiffness ‘keff’

Calculate the seismic horizontal force ‘F’ (refer to Figure 6b)

Analyse bridge and add P-∆ effects (for BEDC3 & BEDC4)

Fig. 8. Procedure for Carrying out Specific Seismic Design using the DBDM
New Seismic Design Rules for Australian Bridges 41


The authors also acknowledge the contributions of Mr Rudolph Kotz of ARRB,

Mr Phil Moloy of DTEI, SA and Ms Giovanna Zanardo of MR, WA to Austroads
project TS 1599.


[1] AS 5100.2 (2004) Bridge design - Part 2: Design loads. Standards Australia
[2] AS 1170.4 (1993) Minimum design loads on structures - Part 4: Earthquake loads.
Standards Australia
[3] AS 1170.4 (2007) Structural design actions - Part 4: Earthquake actions in Australia.
Standards Australia
[4] Noya L, Priestley N, Lake N (2011) Austroads Project No TS 1599: Bridge Design
Guidelines for Earthquakes. ARRB
[5] AS 5100.5 (2004) Bridge design - Part 5: Concrete. Standards Australia
[6] Priestley M J N, Calvi G M, Kowalsky M J (2007) Displacement Based Seismic Design of
Structures. IUSS Press, Pavia
[7] Priestley M J N, Seible F, Calvi G M (1996) Seismic Design and Retrofit of Bridges. John
Willey & Sons, New York