Structural reliability analysis for vessel impact on bridges

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Berlin, Kenneth Brian

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The collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway in 2001 due to a vessel collision was an alarming message to the state of Texas that vessel impact on bridges is a serious issue and may need to be considered for all bridges that span waterways. The Texas Department of Transportation funded this research project that was aimed at examining in detail the AASHTO LRFD code provisions for vessel impact on bridges. The goals of the present study are to develop a standalone computer program that utilizes information on waterways, vessels, traffic, and bridges in a probabilistic analysis that estimates the annual frequency of collapse. According to today’s code provisions for vessel impact on bridges, a bridge is required to have a specific minimum return period associated with collapse depending on its importance classification. A user-friendly stand-alone computer program, VIOB, is developed to make it possible to carry out the required calculations that lead to estimates of the return period. Given information related to the bridge and pier geometry, the waterway, and the vessel traffic at a given mile marker of a waterway where the bridge is located, VIOB produces an in-depth report detailing all the calculations. This report provides information on the analysis performed and also includes summaries that allow the user to determine sources of vulnerability for the bridge. Such information is useful in improving a bridge design when, for example, code specifications are not met. VIOB integrates databases with analysis capabilities and makes it possible to carry out calculations related to an important problem – the safety of bridges against vessel impact