Context for Transportation Infrastructure Damage in Japan

Highway systems are always vulnerable to large disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Resulting consequences include bridge damage, roadway structure failure, and landslides.

To help provide context for the massive amounts of roadway infrastructure damage caused in Japan, here are some historic examples of disasters and the impacts to transportation routes:

At 08:07 a.m. local time on December 26, 2004, a large-scale earthquake with magnitude 9.0 occurred at the western coast of Northern Sumatra Island, Indonesia. The earthquake generated a tsunami with wave height exceeding 20 m. According to a damage investigation in the city of Banda Aceh on the North Sumatra Island of Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, researchers concluded that the primary damage to the highway bridges included the washout of bridge superstructures by tsunami waves. Because of the tsunami, 56.6 km of the 250 km seaside road outside Banda Aceh became impassable and 126.7 km was seriously damaged. Eighty-one out of 186 bridges (43.5 percent) along the roads were washed out or heavily damaged.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake also caused massive destruction to the transportation infrastructure. Approximately 70 km of main roads were damaged, including certain heavily used routes. The port of Port-au-Prince was severely affected (north wharf destroyed, south wharf severely damaged), as was the airport (control tower destroyed, runway damaged, etc.). However, earthquake damage in Japan may not compare favorably to damage in Haiti due to building codes designed for earthquakes and better overall condition and maintenance of infrastructure.

The 1995 Hyogoken-Nanbu (Kobe) earthquake, which is considered one of the most damaging earthquakes in Japan, caused severe damage to expressway structures (e.g., bridges and elevated structures, embankments, toll gates) in the Kobe area. Among the 216 bridges investigated on four routes in the Kobe area, four were destroyed and seven were significantly damaged.

My thanks to Yongchang Ma, P.E., one of IEM’s transportation engineers, for his help in researching and analyzing data for this post.

See IEM’s website for more information on our capabilities and experience in Multi-Modal Transportation Safety and Security, Nuclear Safety and Security.


Author: Justin Krometis, Transportation Analyst