China’s Bridge Collapse: Infrastructure Boom Raises Safety Questions

On Sunday, 47 people died in two traffic accidents, highlighting the danger of China's overcrowded and poorly maintained roads

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Top Photo Corporation / Rex

Four vehicles fell after a section of the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin collapsed on Aug. 24, 2012, killing three people and injuring five others

China’s roads are notoriously dangerous. That point was reiterated Sunday as 47 people died in two traffic accidents, including 36 who were killed in Shaanxi province, when a sleeper bus rear-ended a tanker truck loaded with methanol, and another 11 who died in a collision in Sichuan province. The weekend’s road death toll was startling, but the collisions had a grim familiarity: loaded vehicles colliding on rural highways, apparently due to driver negligence, with horrible consequences. Indeed, Monday morning saw yet another crash between a van and a truck that killed at least nine. So perhaps it was understandable that much of the domestic media attention focused on an accident that had a comparatively small death toll but raised the specter of a growing concern on China’s roads: the parlous state of the infrastructure itself.

In the northeastern city of Harbin a bridge ramp collapsed on Friday, killing three and injuring five. The collapse was particularly shocking because the Yangmingtan Bridge was built at a cost of $300 million less than a year ago, raising questions about whether corners were cut in its construction. The bridge failure was blamed on overloaded trucks, but the government is now carrying out a more detailed investigation into the cause. Chinese newspaper editorials and online comments have called for answers as to why the bridge collapsed and who should take responsibility. Harbin officials were forced to deny claims that they couldn’t track down the contractors who built the bridge and said the names would be made public after an official investigation concluded.

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The collapse is particularly worrisome because it follows several similar recent infrastructure failures. The Beijing News reports it was at least the seventh bridge to collapse in little over one year. That follows a building boom, driven in part by the economic-stimulus package launched in late 2008. More than a third of the $586 billion package was budgeted for infrastructure development. With a huge population and years of economic growth, China often seems to be bursting at the seams. Its roads, trains and subways are frequently overcrowded, and infrastructure development is sorely needed. The government says it plans to increase the nation’s highway system by 50% from 2 million km in 2008 to 3 million km in 2020. In places like the southern province of Guizhou, China’s poorest region, the stimulus helped the construction of the Baling River Bridge, which shortened the traverse of a river valley from an hour on winding roads to a matter of minutes. Around Beijing, mountain villages now enjoy smooth new highways linking them to the city center. But the Chinese capital’s infrastructure hasn’t aged gracefully. Heavy rainfall in July killed at least 77 people in Beijing — 11 of them drowned as their vehicles were trapped in flooded roadways. Sinkholes have sprouted around the city. Rural highways in the Fangshan district, which was hardest hit by flooding, and the Pinggu district, north of town, still have large sections missing a month after the deluge.

The sudden collapse of the Harbin bridge has raised questions about corruption and possible shortcuts taken in an effort to build so much so quickly. While the risk of crashes on China’s roads is numbingly constant, the fear of road collapses is a new and dramatic worry that likely outstrips the actual danger. “This is the national condition,” Li Chengpeng, a journalist and commentator, wrote on his blog on Monday. “I’ve seen a lot of people are now worried about their safety crossing bridges, wishing each one would have a Spider-Man underneath guarding it.” Similar questions were raised last year about China’s rapid expansion of its high-speed rail network after a crash near the city of Wenzhou killed 40. That accident was blamed on a lightning strike, but the safety of the system as a whole was called into question by the earlier dismissal of the Railway Minister Liu Zhijun for corruption.

MORE: China Seethes over a Rash of Deadly School-Bus Crashes

31 comments
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BAAB1
BAAB1

Bridges collapse phenomenon has become common and frequent in the world, especially in China, a question needs to be answered and need to further review and examination of it touches the lives of human beings, and we specialized engineers, we must configure engineering body resists this bad phenomenon

mont56
mont56

Gee,didn't they just build a bridge in San fransisco?

mont56
mont56

Gee, didn't they build a bridge in San fransisco!

panasian
panasian

When it comes to the shoddy contruction of brdges,dams, buildings, America was as bad as China. I'm going to list  a few of  the American disasters: 1) The Ashtabula RiverRailroad Disaster- when a passanger train was going over the river bridge  on 29 Dec 1876,  the bridge collapsed  and train plunged 70 feet into the water and 92 people died. 2) St. Francis Dam Flooding- the dam collapsed just a few hours after it was given a clean bill of health on 12 Mar 1928, more than 400 people got killed. 3) Silver Bridge collapse on 15 Dec 1967.  The bridge collapsed  during rush hour killing 46 people. 4)Hyatt Regency Walkway collapse on 17 Jul 1981- The sky bridge collapsed killing 114 people and injuring about 200 people.   As we can see America has had more than it's share of civil engineering disasters due to the  poor design and workmanship and use of inferior materials. America should look at itself first before condemning China.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

A wall of text and you still miss the whole point.  By the way, the point is accountability.  And this isn't about China versus America.  It's about people dying due to preventable causes.

panasian
panasian

@omegafrontier: First all, when it comes to the Great Wall, you don't know what you are talking about. The Great Wall you see right now is the Ming Wall which was built only in the 15th and 16th centuries. The original Great Wall was the Qin Wall which was bulit 3rd century BC. The original Great Wall is almost all gone now. Believe me there were so many contruction disasters in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. I just listed only 4 of them. Just google the list of the worst bridge, building, dam collapses in America. You will find many more civil engineering disasters in America in the past centuries. You are right this is a problem of accountability. These kinds of accidents can happen as much in America as in China.

panasian
panasian

Let's think about not only the Chinese victims  but also  the innocent Americans who died because of the shoddy constructions  in America.  A  lot  of these mishaps in America happened long after America became a first -class country. So when you talk about "people dying due to preventable causes",  America being a fully developed ceountry,should  have done a lot better in preventing these kinds of   man-made disasters.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

 You're still not getting the point.  You don't need to be a developed country to build lasting structure, bridge building has been here for centuries and centuries.  China build the Great Wall and it last more a millennium, it knows how to build lasting structure.  The problem is not that the technology is not there, so it has nothing to do with developed or undeveloped.  The problem is accountability. 

By the way, since you keep insisting this has something to with America.  Looking at the tens of thousands of bridges that America have built, you manage to only list 4 over the period of more than a hundred year.  Yeah...

xiaojack
xiaojack

This is so call scums project in my country. It means the builder has decrease some undiscoverable material to build that. It could have some hidden issue even after observation, it just time matters. Perhaps the driver in China should get a Kechara Protection Chakras could protect them and help them to prevent from this accident happen. 

JohnnyReason
JohnnyReason

This is due to a lack of building and environmental regulations. This is why the US should NEVER try to be competitive with China, because accidents like these will be the result. Don't buy the GOP's bogus argument -- the result will be Third World America.

Var Enyo
Var Enyo

And oversight mixed with cheap materials. Look at the poison wallboard, pet food and toys yet we keep bringing that junk in. Even their appliances break down in a year or two. 

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

This is the so called race to the bottom (literally in this case). It is relatively less harmful with shoes, but high tech is a different monster. Hopefully this will provide some incentive for political reform.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

That's is just scary.  Why do people put up with this?

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Because the Chinese people as a whole are educated to put personal interests before science. If the people are scientific, they will definitely put more competent ones in office. So the ones currently in office have to make sure people are stupid.

So what if catastrophe happens, like starvation of millions of people in the 1960s? Well, the great leader launched a mass movement and put the blame on his opponents.

You see, you don't need science to govern if people are also blinded by short term interests.

duduong
duduong

Because the officials who care about good governance are either sidelined (e.g. former premier Zhu) or ignored (e.g. current premier Wen). Those in charge only care about enriching themselves or their allies. Sounds familiar?

Wanhe Wang
Wanhe Wang

To be honesty,China always make better things in overseas,bad for ourselves。

Teadaddy
Teadaddy

Well said. Same is with India. Made In India, outside India can be trusted. Within India, you pray for your life. 

Teadaddy
Teadaddy

Well said. Same is the problem with India.

bob3905
bob3905

 A co-worker of mine was from Shanghai. She visited her home country yearly. She would come to work and show off her Chinese made shoes and tell me how they were only five dollars. She was proud of the shoes and her savings on them. She told me she couldn't understand why shoes cost so much in the U.S.

Her Chinese shoes didn't last more than two months before falling apart.

Ben Huang
Ben Huang

Right, because seeing a product that says "Made in China" instills confidence in consumers. Lol. 

macocici
macocici

典型的崇洋媚外,the government of china is the worst in the world .

Wjian
Wjian

中国政府历来就崇洋媚外,这一点上,共朝和晚清政府没有本质的区别!

IQMinusOne
IQMinusOne

Wrong. The Chinese government doesn't idol anyone but itself.

The reason it has to constantly say that the outside world is better is it is afraid to adopt advanced civilian technology for people to catch up. Empowering people has this unpleasant prospect of disturbing the establishment.

So they are pretty much pretending that the west have some kind of magic that the Chinese people are incapable of having.

Yoshi_1
Yoshi_1

"Made in China"

 We have two major infrastructure  projects being done by Chinese companies going on right now, both are large bridge projects. One in California, and one,  in New York.  Anyone else concerned?

JohnnyReason
JohnnyReason

Mitt The Oursourcer Romney would surely like to see more of this Bain-style way of doing things.

SNAPTIE: OBAMA = 4 PINOCCHIOS
SNAPTIE: OBAMA = 4 PINOCCHIOS

Dumb Chit. California's is being built with Obama stash, the other bridge being build is with the democratic controlled state of New York.  Socialism is good till you run out of other people's money. Obama, the bowing Chia Pet..

J R
J R

Check your facts.  Obama didn't approve using Chinese to build those bridges. In fact, he originally proposed a 'buy American' provision with the stimulus to discourage this, but Congress watered it down. Plus, California passed up stimulus funding so they could do this outsourcing.

http://www.factcheck.org/2012/...

The biggest irony of it all it that Republicans keep touting that states know how to best do everything, not the federal government. Apparently, these bridge projects suggest otherwise, considering the questionable quality of Chinese goods and the fact that outsourcing those jobs is bad for their economies.

bcfred
bcfred

Depends on who is monitoring the project and where they're sourcing materials.  Companies I have worked with that manufacture in China uniformly say you need either (ideally) your own plant or at least direct employees working within the plant to ensure specs are met and procedures followed.  Otherwise you wind up with children's toys with lead paint and toothpaste with formaldehyde.

achievement
achievement

 I seem to remember a story in San Francisco not too long ago about a politically connected concrete supplier that, furnished less than specified materials for earthquake reinforcement of several bridges, including the Golden Gate bridge. It stands to reason if the most stringent state ,(California), can't keep up with contractors; than it seems more than likely that China would have exponentially greater difficulty in maintaining standards. Coupled with a desire to build, longer! higher! faster !  it would be inevitable that material shortages would lead to "good Enough".

Marcus Taylor
Marcus Taylor

Well, it's better than having cocaine in our soda-pops ... or opium in over the counter medicine.

Hmmmm didn't we go through this in the late 1800's ?

Jack Marsh
Jack Marsh

Marcus Taylor: Given the choice between lead or cocaine and formaldehyde or opium you'd go with the lead amp; formaldehyde?

That makes no much sense--time to cut back on your lead amp; formaldehyde intake.