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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-029
Date: February 2011

China Earthquake Reconnaissance Report: Performance of Transportation Structures During the May 12, 2008, M7.9 Wenchuan Earthquake

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On May 12, 2008, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake occurred in Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province, China. Shortly after the earthquake, the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center of the Federal Highway Administration contacted its Chinese counterpart, the Research Institute of Highway from the Ministry of Communication of China, to arrange a visit to the affected areas for transportation system reconnaissance. For various reasons, the plan for the earthquake reconnaissance was not finalized until late July. The U.S. transportation system reconnaissance team visited the earthquake-affected areas from July 20 to 24, 2008. This report is a summary of the team’s findings and the lessons learned from the earthquake event.

Jorge Pagán-Ortiz
Director, Office of Infrastructure Research and Development


This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information contained in this document.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

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Technical Report Documentation Page

1. Report No.


2. Government Accession No. 3. Recipient’s Catalog No.

4. Title and Subtitle

China Earthquake Reconnaissance Report: Performance of Transportation Structures During the May 12, 2008, M7.9 Wenchuan Earthquake

5. Report Date

February 2011

6. Performing Organization Code

7. Author(s)

Wen-Huei Phillip Yen, Genda Chen, Mark Yashinsky, Youssef Hashash, Curtis Holub, Kehai Wang, and Xiaodong Guo

8. Performing Organization Report No.

9. Performing Organization Name and Address

Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, Federal Highway Administration
6300 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22101


Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering
Missouri University of Science and Technology
1401 N. Pine St., Rolla, MO 65409-0030

Office of Earthquake Engineering, California Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 168041, Sacramento, CA 95816-8041


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
205 N. Matthew Ave, Urbana, IL 61801-2352


Research Institute of Highway, Ministry of Transport, China
8 Xitucheng Road, Haidian District, Beijing, China 100088


Highway Design and Planning Institute of Sichuan Province, China

10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS)

11. Contract or Grant No.


12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address

Office of Infrastructure Research and Development
Federal Highway Administration
6300 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22101-2296

13. Type of Report and Period

Final Report:
August 2004–November 2009

14. Sponsoring Agency Code

15. Supplementary Notes

The Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR) was W. Phillip Yen, HRDI-50.

16. Abstract

This report documents the lessons learned from damage caused in the May 12, 2008, M7.9 earthquake in Wenchuan County, China. The damage to the 14 observed bridges reminded the researchers of damage suffered during the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake in California. The bridges had few seismic details such as long seats, large shear keys, or tightly spaced transverse reinforcement. Most arch and girder bridges collapsed due to surface rupturing of the seismic faults in the Longmen-Shan thrust zone. A significant portion of roadways and bridges were pushed away or buried by landslides in the steep slopes of mountainous terrain. Damage to bridge superstructure included unseating of girders, longitudinal and transverse offset of decks, pounding at expansion joints, and shear key failure. The bearings of several girder bridges were either crushed or displaced significantly. The substructure and foundation of bridges were subjected to shear and flexural cracks, concrete spalling, stirrup rupture, excessive displacement, and loss of stability. More damage occurred in simply supported bridges than in continuous spans. Curved bridges either collapsed or suffered severe damage. Evidence of directivity effects on bridges near the earthquake epicenter was observed during the earthquake. The San Fernando earthquake significantly changed the seismic design and construction of bridges in the United States. The Wenchuan earthquake is expected to have the same significance for China’s bridge engineers.

17. Key Words

Surface rupture, Seismic performance, Bridge damage, Temporary bridge construction

18. Distribution Statement

No restrictions. This document is available to the public through NTIS:
National Technical Information Service
5301 Shawnee Road
Alexandria, VA 22312

19. Security Classif. (of this report)


20. Security Classif. (of this page)


21. No. of Pages


22. Price

Form DOT F 1700.7 (8-72) Reproduction of completed pages authorized

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