A pedestrian bridge on the N3 road in Bedfordview, in Johannesburg collapsed in the early hours of the morning on Tuesday the 8th of August 2017. The bridge collapsed onto four vehicles, resulting in five injuries with zero fatalities.

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The highway has been re-opened since the collapse. Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi finds the collapse odd, saying the bridge was deemed safe in 2016. He said: “Sanral did an inspection of the bridge and we were told that the bridge was in a good condition and we have a certificate in that regard. What happened on Wednesday was shocking.”

The bridge was built in 1978. It was recently decommissioned and thus regarded as an abandoned bridge but still thought to be rigid enough to stay standing.

The transport minister has tasked forensic experts and officials from the Council for Geoscience and Sanral (South African National Roads Agency) with investigating what caused the bridge’s collapse.

Rubble removal teams spent the public holiday on Wednesday removing the collapsed bridge to allow traffic to flow.

 

Speculation

Whilst the investigation progresses armchair critics are offering possible causes for the bridge’s demise. Some of these assessments point to another disaster which occurred at a similar time: an earth tremor apparently triggered by the collapse of an illegal mine. The reports of this  illegal mine caving in are unverified, but could certainly account for the accident if proved true.

Dr Eldridge Kgaswane, scientist for the Council for Geoscience was, however, skeptical. He pointed out that there had indeed been a tremor, but because it only measured 2.0 on the Richter scale was an unlikely cause. He suggested that a tremor measuring around 6.0 would have been a more likely catalyst for the bridge’s collapse.

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Talking to IOL (a South African news website), a ward councilor Gill Humphreys says that vandalism could have been the cause. She pointed out the bridge had been tampered with for years, “Over this time, it has been stripped of nuts and bolts and all steel reinforcing. We are questioning why Sanral did nothing to ensure the safety of the bridge, as this almost certainly caused the collapse.”

Questions have also been asked about a truck bumping into it at some point and whether this had compromised the structural quality of the bridge.

Another more outlandish online allegation is that a bomb caused the pedestrian bridge to fall. At the time of publishing, however, none of these rumors have been confirmed.

The validity of infrastructure inspections has been questioned following the collapse. Engineers now tirelessly work to end the speculation. SANRAL delivered a statement reading:

“We are relieved that we managed to clear the debris and open the road in less than 48 hours. We wish to thank the teams involved in the collaborative effort to clear the site. At the same time, we have not forgotten those who were injured during the bridge collapse. We wish them a speedy recovery and are keeping them in our prayers.”

 

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Avoiding future collapses

Twitter users are warning that more bridge collapses could occur in South Africa. They believe their age is one of the factors compromising their structural integrity. This photograph of a pedestrian bridge at the R61 next to Angus Station in Ekurhuleni clearly shows signs of structural disintegration.

They are asking for their photos to be retweeted in an effort to motivate their municipal governments to do something about these aging bridges.

A probe into what caused a bridge scaffolding collapse back in 2015 on Grayston Drive in Johannesburg is still ongoing. The bridge collapse caused the death of two and injured 19. What remains apparent is that South African civil and structural engineering entities need to take bridge construction, assessment and maintenance more seriously in years to come to avoid potential catastrophic failures.

 

Works Cited

Cox, Anna. "Industry News." Vandalism May Have Led to Bridge Fail | IOL Motoring. 10 Aug. 2017. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.

"Johannesburg N3 Bridge Collapse: Traffic Flow Restored, but Questions Remain over Inspections." Daily Maverick. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.

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