As Italian rescuers and emergency services take care of the collapse of a viaduct near Genoa, with the loss of at least 30 lives, Belgian experts have been asking – could it happen here? The biggest disaster would involve the Vilvoorde viaduct: 1,700m long at 35m high, with the longest distance between two spans of 163m. The bridge was built in 1974, and came into use in 1978, about a decade after the Ponto Morandi.
At the time, it was said that the viaduct would have a life-span of 100 years. However, due to factors including the massive increase in traffic since those times, the real life span can now be considered less, according to Paul Meekels, head of the iron and steel expert division of the Flemish government, speaking to the VRT.
Nowadays, a life-span of 70-80 years is a more realistic expectation, he said, after which demolition and replacement is an option. Around 140,000 lorries use the viaduct every day, heading to and from Brussels and the south, Antwerp, and the Netherlands and Germany and the north. The chaos cause by a mere lane closure has been seen on more than one occasion; the effects of a demolition can only be imagined.
Bridges in Flanders – and there are 2,700 of them including the Vilvoorde viaduct – are under routine inspection, with more detailed examination if any faults are found, Meekels said.
“Zero-risk doesn’t exist,” Meekels said. “But we think the system allows us to make the risk very small indeed. You have noting to fear from driving over a bridge in Flanders.