Engineers on a Dare—Building a Bridge Near the World’s Strongest Quake

In an artist’s depiction, the Chacao Channel bridge connects the island of Chiloe and mainland Chile. If finished, it will be the longest suspension bridge in South America. Its daring design won it the “Bridge” category at Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure 2016.

How do you build a bridge near the site of the strongest earthquake ever recorded? Very carefully, says Matias Valenzuela, from the Ministerio Obras Públicas de Chile, who is presenting on what could be the longest suspension bridge (2,750 meters) in South America. The plans for the bridge won the “Bridge” category in Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure 2016 in London.

A 9.5 earthquake rocked Chile in 1960, killing 1,655 people, injuring thousands and making 2 million people homeless, according to the United States Geological Survey. To this day, the Chile quake remains the strongest one ever recorded.

The experience of the world’s worst quake may have prevented even the thought of connecting the island with anything but ferries. The bridge will also be battered with high winds as well as the ocean currents that abound in the many deep fjords along Chile’s coastline.

But engineers are not ones to give up so easily. After all, what is building a bridge compared to putting men on the moon?

“We had to switch from a cable stayed design to a suspension design,” said Valenzuela, “to withstand the seismic demands in the area.” A suspension bridge can sway with, rather than try to resist,…

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