Guidelines for Shielding Bridge Piers

Bridge piers are rigid fixed objects that are generally close to the travelway to minimize bridge lengths. As a consequence, barriers are normally placed around piers to reduce the potential of vehicle crashes damaging the piers.  However, the design and placement of the barriers may not have considered the possibility that vehicles, particularly large trucks, might still impact the pier. The AASHTO LRFD Bridge Design Specifications require piers that were not designed to withstand large impact load to be protected by a 54-in. high structurally independent barrier if the barrier is within 10 ft of the pier. If the barrier is more than 10 ft from the pier, a 42-in. high barrier is specified. There is no consideration of the risk of a high-speed impact, traffic volume, truck usage, operating speeds, facility type, and other factors in the bridge specifications. In addition, while the bridge specifications specify a height of barrier, they don’t specify the length of barrier in advance of the pier. They also don’t specify the transition that might be appropriate.    The requirement for protecting bridge piers from truck impacts may have a significant effect on passenger car safety. Rigid barriers are generally believed to cause more injuries and fatalities than semi-rigid and flexible barrier systems. In addition, having barriers close to the travelway may significantly increase the number of passenger car impacts. Because heavy truck impacts with bridge piers are rare, it is possible that the increase in accident costs from passenger vehicle crashes will be greater than the reduction in bridge closing and repair costs that result from using barriers to protect bridge piers.   Further, there are operational concerns associated with the use of tall concrete barriers near the travelway. Concrete barriers are much more likely to produce deep snow drifts than are other more open barriers. Drifting is also a problem during severe sand storms. The increase in snow and sand drifting will increase accident costs and operational costs as highway agencies are forced to make more frequent passes with snow plowing equipment to keep highways open to traffic under drifting situations. Also, when concrete barriers must be placed near interchanges, the use of tall barriers can adversely affect sight distances.   In fact, most of the issues mentioned above result from following the approach “one size fits all” in protecting bridge piers without quantifying when and how the bridge pier protection should be applied. States are spending significant funding on projects that may not provide the expected benefits, particularly on lower traffic volume or functional class bridges.   The objectives of this research were to develop (1) risk-based guidelines that quantify when bridge piers should be investigated for vehicular collision forces per AASHTO LRFD Bridge Design Specifications or be shielded with a longitudinal barrier considering as a minimum: site condition, traffic, bridge design configurations, geometry of the roadway section passing beneath a bridge, operation characteristics, and benefit/cost and (2) guidelines for barrier selection, length-of-need, and placement for shielding bridge piers and protecting the traveling public.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $450000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 12-90

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Dekelbab, Waseem

  • Performing Organizations:

    Roadsafe LLC

  • Principal Investigators:

    Ray, Malcolm

  • Start Date: 20121120
  • Expected Completion Date: 20180415
  • Actual Completion Date: 20180415
  • Source Data: RiP Project 38735

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01548241
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 12-90
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Dec 20 2014 1:01AM