Article

Ageing Infrastructure - More than a bump in the road

November 16, 2018

For over 50 years, the Morandi Bridge carried commuters, families, tourists and freight along the A10 motorway across the Polcevera River in Genoa. On 14 August 2018, 43 people tragically lost their lives when a section of the bridge collapsed.

The tragic loss of life here and at other incidents in recent years throws a spotlight on the evolving risks and complex liability chains associated with economic infrastructure. These risks stretch beyond business interruption and property damage to legal liabilities, reputational damage and possible corporate manslaughter.

Whether infrastructure forms part of your investment portfolio - or is your responsibility to construct, operate and maintain - it is essential that you fully understand your risks.

In this paper we look at the key issues in risk management and insurance which can assist you in identifying, managing and mitigating your risks.

Where is your asset on the bathtub curve?

Where is your asset on the bathtub curve? Decreasing risk of failure Cause of failures early in the life of an asset are dominated by defects in design or construction and errors in commissioning. Good project governance and timely ‘Bringing into Use’ mitigates the risk here. Failure during the ‘useful life’ phase is essentially random. Good controls include inspection and maintenance. It’s important to constantly check that the asset is being used in the way in which it was designed. Risk of failure towards the end of asset life increases. This phase is likely to be dominated by increased inspection and maintenance. Degraded performance or limitations on use may be necessary. Constant failure rate Increasing risk Higher of failure 

No time to grow old gracefully

Make a short trip around any major city and the bridges, roads, railways and tunnels undergoing maintenance and repairs bear witness to infrastructure assets being pushed to their limits.

In developed economies, most of the economic infrastructure assets have been part of the fabric of everyday life for 40 years or more. The average age of a bridge in the U.S. is 43 years, and one in every nine bridges is structurally deficient1. Amazingly, there are believed to be more than 50,000 bridges in need of repair in the USA2. In the UK a recent study3 found that over 2,000 bridges were not suitable to carry the heaviest vehicles now permitted on the public highway.

Genoa’s disaster is part of a wider trend surrounding ageing global infrastructure.


Recent years have seen an increasing number of incidents related to ageing economic infrastructure. Tragedies such as those at Genoa, the I-35 Mississippi River bridge collapse and the I-5 Skagit River bridge failure are representative of issues with multiple and significant implications for both the public and private sector.

Under pressure?

a list of the main causes of bridge failure 

Built for a different world

It’s not just wear and tear that affects the suitability of older infrastructure assets for modern demands. Changing needs place stresses on infrastructure that may not have been considered when they were first designed and built.

Over the last 50 years the permitted weight of goods vehicles on UK roads has increased to 44 tons. Asset deterioration increases with heavier vehicles, increased traffic volumes and higher speeds; trends which we observe globally. In particular, the weight and quantity of commercial vehicles in use have increased significantly. Bridges designed for traffic 40 years ago are now coping with very different loads: one reason why unforeseen use is one of the main causes of bridge failure.

Similarly, assets that were built to comply with less stringent safety standards than we expect today continue to play a fundamental role in our daily lives. Bringing those assets up to date carries inherent risks – both during maintenance and upgrade works and also during the remaining life of the asset.

To read the full report, click the ‘Download’ button below or at the top of the page.

Footnotes