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After the Genoa Disaster: How Safe are Germany’s Bridges?

Bridges are not supposed to collapse just because of a fierce thunderstorm. Actually, they are not supposed to collapse at all. Yet part of the Morandi Bridge did. The bridge was built in the 1960-s and is 1.18 kilometers (0.73 miles) long.

When part of it suddenly collapsed over a length of 200 meters (656 feet), dozens of people were killed instantly. This bridge was erected for the A10/E80 freeway and crossed part of the city of Genoa in north-western Italy.

After the disaster, many countries, including Germany, are asking themselves how safe their own bridges are. Could this kind of catastrophe happen in Germany too, in the paradise of roads?

The collapsed Genoa bridge. Photo source: Youtube

According to the Federal Highway Research Institute (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, BASt) in Bergisch Gladbach, there are almost 40,000 bridges on German freeways and highways. All of them are being checked on a regular basis.

BASt officials say the condition of only 12 percent of those bridges was either excellent or good. Three fourths of Germany’s 40,000 bridges of this kind were in a satisfactory or at least sufficient condition. Eleven percent were evaluated as insufficient, and the state 2 percent of these freeway and highway bridges were in was even “unsatisfactory”.

But, after the Genoa disaster, German experts attempted to reassure the population by saying even bridges in an “unsatisfactory” condition would not just collapse. In many of these cases, the negative evaluation is based on certain issues such as corroding railings.

German bridges with the rating “insufficient” will not collapse, the BASt insists. According to them, this just means the bridges in question will have to be renovated in the not too distant future.

In Germany, all freeway and highway bridges are being checked every three years. Thorough checks are being performed every six years. To the authorities there is no issue here. They say they are ensuring the safety of these 40,000 bridges and the people who cross them. In other words: Terrible disasters such as the one in Genoa are not likely to happen in Germany.

Because of Germany’s high population density and size, but also due to its car fixation, it has a rather large road network the condition of which is mostly excellent, in comparison. After the country’s reunification, countless roads in Eastern Germany were renovated in the 1990-s, and more connections between west and east were built, including many bridges.

Germany’s longest bridges are located up north. The ‘Hochstraße Elbmarsch’ is 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) long and only up to 35 meters (115 feet) high. In 1974, the Köhlbrand Bridge was inaugurated, which traverses the Port of Hamburg. It is 3.6 kilometers long and up to 325 meters (1,066 feet) high. The third-longest bridge in Germany is the ‘Hochbrücke Brunsbüttel’ in the Schleswig-Holstein province. It is 2.8 kilometers long and 237 meters (778 feet) high.