Natural Hazards

, Volume 87, Issue 3, pp 1469–1487 | Cite as

Use of sacrificial embankments to minimize bridge damage from scour during extreme flow events

  • Matthew W. BrandEmail author
  • Mandar M. Dewoolkar
  • Donna M. Rizzo
Original Paper


The leading cause of bridge failure has often been identified as bridge scour, which is generally defined as the erosion or removal of streambed and/or bank material around bridge foundations due to flowing water. These scour critical bridges are particularly vulnerable during extreme flood events, and pose a major risk to human life, transportation infrastructure, and economic sustainability. Retrofitting the thousands of undersized and scour critical bridges to more rigorous standards is prohibitively expensive requiring effective yet economical countermeasures. This research tested the efficacy of using approach embankments as intentional sacrificial “fuses” to protect the bridge integrity and minimize damage during large flow events by allowing the streams to access their natural floodplain and reduce channel velocities. This countermeasure concept was evaluated using the Hydrologic Engineering Center’s River Analysis System models. Steady flow models were developed for three specific bridges on two river reaches. Streamflow return period estimators for both river reaches were developed using Bayesian analysis and available United States Geological Survey stream gauge data to evaluate sacrificial embankments under non-stationary climatic conditions. The use of sacrificial embankments was determined to be a cost-effective scour mitigation strategy for bridges with suboptimal hydraulic capacity and unknown or shallow foundations. Additional benefits of sacrificial embankments include reductions in upstream flood stage and velocity.


Bridge Sacrificial embankment Fuse Climate change Non-stationarity Flooding Tropical Storm Irene 



This work was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSFGRFP) through the University of Vermont. This work was also partially supported by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT) and the United States Department of Transportation through the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center, and through Vermont EPSCoR with funds from the National Science Foundation Grant EPS-1101317; these are also acknowledged. The authors would like to give special thanks to Jessica Louisos, Dr. Roy Schiff, and Matthew Gardner at the Milone and MacBroom Vermont office along with Seth Jensen at the Lamoille County Planning Commission for their help. The authors would also like to thank Scott Olson and the USGS for providing the original HEC-RAS model for the Winooski River. The authors would also like to thank Professors Arne Bomblies, Richard Downer, Eric Hernandez, and Dryver Huston for their valuable suggestions. The authors are also grateful to Ian Anderson, Christopher Benda, Josif Bicja, Carolyn Carlson, Jeff DeGraff, Aaron Lachance, John Lens, Jon Olin, Wayne Symonds, Kristen Underwood, and Nick Wark for their feedback during this work. Finally, the authors are grateful to the reviewers of this paper for their constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Civil and Environmental EngineeringThe University of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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