Research Activities: 1999

Assessment/Mitigation of Earthquake Hazards along Designated Emergency Vehicle Priority Access Routes, Southeast Missouri




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Title & Summary Contents
Chapters 1-7
Chapter 8 Chapters 9-12 Appendices

Sequential Number


Identification Number


Matching Research Agency

Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)

Principal Investigator

Neil Anderson, Professor
Geology and Geophysics
University of Missouri-Rolla
125 McNutt Hall
Rolla, MO 65409
p(573) 341-4852
f(573) 341-6935

Student Involvement

Eight (8) graduate students and four (4) undergraduates

Project Objective

Because of the compelling need to reopen emergency vehicle access routes into St. Louis, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau following a devastating earthquake, the MoDOT in conjunction with other state agencies has designated specific routes for vehicular access of emergency personnel, equipment and supplies in the event of a major earthquake event in southeast Missouri. These routes include portions of US 60. This route traverses varied geologic settings and includes or crosses many critical roadway features such as bridges, slopes, box culverts, and retaining walls. The extent of damage and survivability of these critical roadway features in the event of a major earthquake event is not fully known and would impact the ability to use these designated routes to provide emergency vehicular access in a timely manner. This study involves the preliminary assessment of two critical bridge sites along US 60 and the development of an initial geotechnical database that will be part of a future regional geotechnical GIS database. The methodologies developed in this study will be used to establish an assessment protocol. The out-put interpreted geotechnical data will be used for future prioritization and retrofit of deficiencies noted at the bridge sites studied.

Project Abstract

Southeast Missouri experiences relatively small magnitude earthquakes on a regular basis, and is the site of several of the largest magnitude (estimated 8.0-8.3) earthquake events to strike North America in recorded history (1811-1812). Experts agree that similar (or greater magnitude) earthquakes will strike this region again. Geologic conditions in southeast Missouri are such as to make this region one of the most seismically susceptible in the country, based on its damage potential from intrinsically susceptible soil, high water levels and vast expanses of flood sensitive ground. If a high magnitude earthquake (on the order of 8.3) struck the northern part of the southeastern Missouri today, infrastructure in SE Missouri would be devastated. Levees and dams could be breached, bridges across the Mississippi and Missouri rivers could collapse or be otherwise rendered unusable, extended sections of highway would be closed by landslides, floods, soil liquefaction, and the failure of roadway bridges and overpasses. The network of facilities and services required for commerce and public health in St. Louis, Sikeston, Cape Girardeau and surrounding communities would be devastated. Utilities, including electrical power, communications, oil and gas distribution, sewage, waste disposal and water, would be disabled until emergency repair crews were able to access these communities. SE Missouri would be effectively cut-off from the rest of the world and individual towns and communities isolated. In the event of a major earthquake, the reopening of emergency vehicle access routes into St. Louis, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau would be a top priority. To facilitate the rapid, cost-effective reopening of roadways and expedite the transport of aid into affected communities, a study of existing roadways, bridges and overpasses in SE Missouri is required. More specifically, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) needs to confirm if their designated emergency re-entry routes will sustain minimal earthquake related damage, and, hence, can be reopened effectively and efficiently. MoDOT will designate these routes as emergency vehicle priority access. In order to expedite the reopening of designated emergency vehicle priority access routes, MoDOT also needs to assess the integrity of existing overpasses, bridges, dams, levees, canals and foundation soils along designated priority routes. Ultimately, MoDOT may elect to reinforce these features (where necessary), thereby minimizing earthquake damage, and repair time and costs.

Task Description

  1. 1. Assessment
  2. 2. Development of database
  3. 3. Assessment protocol
  4. 4. Future prioritization & retrofit of deficiencies

Anticipated Benefits

The earthquake hazards assessment of designated emergency vehicle priority access routes, which are mainly National Highway System routes, in SE Missouri will produce tangible economic and humanitarian benefits. Significant benefits (financial and humanitarian) will be realized if MoDOT is able to reopen designated highways in a timely and cost-effective manner. This effort fully supports the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) National Strategic Plan, mobility goal related to the strategic objective of returning highways to full service following disasters. The expertise, methodologies and technologies developed during the course of this study will be transferred to adjacent states via University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR), MoDOT, Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) and FHWA, ensuring that similar site-specific studies of priority access routes in other Midwestern States are conducted in an efficient, thorough and cost-effective manner.

Modal Orientation



Project Start Date:07/01/1999
Project End Date:09/01/2000

Relationship to other Research/Projects

There is no direct correlation with other current projects, however investigators are conducting several other geotechnical site characterization and structure assessment studies. Two related proposals are pending.

Technology Transfer Activities

Presentations at two conferences are planned. Reviewed papers will be published. Final report will be available through MoDOT. Grad student thesis will be available through UMR.

Transportation Research Board Keywords

Bridges, slopes, box culverts, and retaining walls