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South Dakota Department of Transportation
Project Synopsis

Title: Truck Weights and the Bridge Formula
Project Researcher: Carl Kurt, EnGraph
Project Manager: Dan Strand
Research Period: 5/1/1999 - 8/31/1998
Status: Approved
Cost: $60,000.00

Problem Statement: Presently there is no limit on truck gross weight in South Dakota except for long combination vehicles that are limited to 129,000 pounds. There are limits on a vehicle's total length and the weight is limited by the bridge weight formula that is based on the vehicle's length, number of axles, and axle spacings. Presently the only limit on the number of axles a vehicle may have is based on the vehicle's length and the number of axles the operator chooses to place beneath it. Also, there are limits on individual axle weights, axle group weights, and on the load per inch of tire width. It is known that there are companies that operate in South Dakota with trucks with as many as fifteen axles that can operate without special permits. The bridge formula may not be controlling these vehicles and they may be causing overstress in bridges that exceed the allowable.

For the purpose of the problem statement, the term "standard truck" will refer to single units trucks with no more three axles as well as semi-tractor trailer combinations with no more than five axles. Non-standard trucks will be all other truck configurations. The terms inventory stress level and operatiing stress level are defined in the AASHTO Manual for Condition Evaluation of Bridges.

Bridges in South Dakota are designed at an inventory stress level and permitted overloads are allowed up to an operating stress level. The Department uses the load factor design method and the operating stress level allowed is five thirds of the inventory stress level. Some of these non-standard vehicles are possibly exceeding the operating stress level on some bridges but are not considered to be overloaded according to the bridge weight formula. This may be detrimental to the life of some bridges. There are approximately 1200 bridges on the State trunk highway system. The four common bridge construction types include: reinforced concrete slab, steel girder, prestressed concrete girder and trusses.

It is known that non-standard vehicles exist but it is not known to what extent. To further complicate this, vehicles having more than thirteen axles are not counted by weigh-in-motion systems and traffic counters since these systems only accommodate upto thirteen axle vehicles.


A study is needed to determine the truck configuration limits (i.e. -- restriction on gross weight, restriction on number of total axles or number of axles in a group, weight of axle groups, or a modification to the bridge weight formula) that should be set so that the life of bridges in South Dakota are not prematurely shortened. To limit the gross weight of trucks or the number of axles that can be used would require legislation. Strong evidence is needed to support any legislation recommended.

Findings: Approximately 1,180 South Dakota bridges on the state and Interstate system were analyzed for approximately 200 non-standard truck configurations. A standard truck is defined as a vehicle that, if it is a single unit, contains no more than three axles, or, if a semi-trailer unit, contains no more than five axles. Typical standard trucks include the following configurations H, HS, 3S2, T3 or 3-3. All other truck configurations are considered non-standard. The allowable weight of each truck configuration using the current Bridge Gross Weight formula was compared with the analysis. It was found that the current Bridge Gross Weight formula allowed long trucks with a large number of axles to overload a significant number of bridges. Therefore, a modified Bridge Gross Weight formula is proposed. If used, the modified formula would allow the agency to select a value for a constant, based on agency policy, to set amount and percent of overloads allowed. The modified Bridge Gross Weight formula reduces the allowable gross weight for non-standard trucks with a large number of axles and high overall length so the capacity of South Dakota’s bridges is exceeded to a lessor extent than would otherwise be allowed. It increases the gross weight of vehicles with low number of axles and shorter overall length. In addition, the degree of overloading bridges is more uniform and less severe with the modified Bridge Gross Weight formula than with the original one. A procedure was developed to allow the agency to estimate the additional bridge life expected using the modified Bridge Gross Weight formula.

Research Objectives:
1  To determine the truck configuration limits that should be set so that the life of bridges in South Dakota are not prematurely shortened.

Research Tasks:
1  Review and summarize literature relevant to truck loads and their affects to design life.
2  Meet with the technical panel to review project scope and work plan.
3  Identify the possible truck configurations to test.
4  Perform a structural analysis on a representative sample of bridges and non-standard truck configurations, identified in Task Three, for strength capacity and fatigue (serviceability). Bridges to be sampled will come from South Dakota’s bridge inven
5  Determine the extent of usage of non-standard vehicles and the possibility of increased usage.
6  Determine limits on weight and axle configurations of vehicles that will better ensure bridges meet their design life.
7  Recommend practical limits on weight and axle configurations that South Dakota should use for limiting the damage caused by non-standard trucks.
8  Prepare a final report and executive summary of the literature review, research methodology, findings, conclusions and recommendations.
9  Make an executive presentation to the SDDOT Research Review Board at conclusion of the project.

Documents Available:

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