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Bridge Hydraulics
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Bridge Hydraulics
Les Hamill
School of Civil and Structural Engineering
University of Plymouth

An Imprint of Routledge
London and New York
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First published 1999

by E & FN Spon, an imprint of Routledge
11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2004.
Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada
by Routledge
29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001
© 1999 Les Hamill
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or
reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical,
or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including
photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalog record for this book has been requested

ISBN 0-203-02841-4 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-203-23745-5 (OEB Format)

ISBN 0 419 20570 5 (Print Edition)
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Preface viii
Principal notation xi

1 Putting things into perspective 1

1.1 Why study bridge hydraulics? 1
1.2 Early developments in bridge hydraulics 3
1.3 Hydraulic causes of bridge failure 9
1.4 The hydraulic design of bridges 19
2 How a bridge affects river flow 34
2.1 Introduction 34
2.2 What happens when water flows through a bridge 36
2.3 Afflux, piezometric head loss and energy loss 41
2.4 Classification of flow types at a bridge 44
2.5 Channel control and structure control 51
2.6 Case study: Canns Mill Bridge 56
3 Factors that affect the hydraulic performance of a bridge 61
3.1 Introduction 61
3.2 The bridge opening ratio, M 61
3.3 Froude number (F), subcritical and supercritical flow 68
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3.4 Ratio of waterway length to span, L/b 77

3.5 Entrance rounding 78
3.6 Eccentricity, e 79
3.7 Skew, 80
3.8 Depth of flow, Y 86
3.9 Shape of the waterway opening 87
3.10 Channel roughness and shape 88
3.11 Scour 90
3.12 Examples 91
4 How to calculate discharge and afflux 103
4.1 Introduction 103
4.2 US Geological Survey (USGS) method 105
4.3 US Bureau of Public Roads (USBPR) method 134
4.4 Biery and Delleur 152
4.5 Hydraulics Research (HR) method 156
4.6 The accuracy of a hydraulic analysis and numerical models 160
4.7 Examples 166
5 How to analyse flow past piers and trestles 176
5.1 Introduction 176
5.2 The d’Aubuisson equation 177
5.3 The Nagler equation 178
5.4 The work of Yarnell 181
5.5 Examples 186
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6 How to analyse flow over embankments 189

6.1 Introduction 189
6.2 Road embankments as weirs 192
6.3 Example 6.1 197
7 How to improve flow through a bridge 199
7.1 Introduction 199
7.2 Entrance rounding 200
7.3 Abutment type and extended wingwalls 215
7.4 Spur dykes (or guidewalls) 219
7.5 Minimum energy bridge waterways 226
7.6 Channel improvements 238
7.7 Examples 243
8 How to evaluate and combat scour 251
8.1 Introduction 251
8.2 Types of scour and its classification 257
8.3 Factors affecting scour in cohesionless material and associated 263
8.4 Estimation of scour depth in cohesionless material 277
8.5 Designing for scour 292
8.6 Regime theory 305
8.7 Scour in cohesive materials 308
8.8 Scour in tidal waterways 308
8.9 Combatting scour 324

Appendix Hydrodynamic forces on bridges 344

Appendix Some alternative equations for local scour 347
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This is intended as a useful handbook on the subject of bridge hydraulics. It includes
references to articles published in 1997, just prior to its completion, so compared with similar
books it is relatively up to date. It explores how to undertake the hydraulic analysis or design
of a bridge, either single or multispan, with either rectangular or arched waterways. It
describes how to calculate the afflux (backwater), how to improve the hydraulic performance
of a bridge, and how to evaluate and combat scour. The intention is to provide a good
introduction to the fundamentals for anyone not familiar with this specalised branch of
engineering, with enough detailed information to appeal to those who are.
This book is, in a way, the result of a mistake. Near my home town many years ago a rather
old, untidy, steel truss bridge was replaced by a very elegant masonry structure. The result
was that flooding upstream got worse. This raised the question: how is the size of the opening
in a river bridge determined? Initial enquiries revealed that estimating the magnitude of the
design flood was relatively straightforward; it was converting this into the dimensions of a
bridge opening that was difficult. An expert on the subject candidly and charmingly admitted
that there was much that he (and practically everyone else) did not know or understand, so if
anyone cared to fill in a few gaps… Hence my research interest and the book. Another reason
is that bridges are interesting: many people stand on a bridge watching the floodwater pass
underneath. Hopefully some of this interest is captured in the following pages.
Some engineers may question why a book on bridge hydraulics is needed when it is
possible to find computer software that will do all the analysis and design for you. Such
people frequently believe, because computers are capable of giving answers to 20 decimal
places, that everything that comes out of them is correct and accurate. This is not true.
Ignoring the fact that the input data may be inaccurate, there may be mistakes in the computer
program. A sobering thought is that someone once said that if a piece of software is worth
using then it must have an error in it somewhere!
Many years ago the author was invited to use the research facilities of a large, prestigious
company. Part of the work involved digitising some
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complex shapes to determine their area. To provide a check on the accuracy obtained a
square was also digitised each time. It was found that the calculated areas of the squares were
in error by a very considerable margin. When this was pointed out to the company they held a
hasty conference and came to the conclusion that a square was too simple for the complex
software to be able to handle! They subsequently modified the software.
No-one would deny that computers have a fundamental role to play in modern engineering,
but sometimes the basic science is insufficiently understood or too complex to be represented
accurately by the software. Sometimes, as in the case of scour, there is not enough reliable
field data to verify the base equations or computer models under all conditions. Nature does
not realise that it must always act in strict accordance with human rules! For all of these
reasons, there are times when physical modelling is strongly recommended, particularly when
important or unusual projects are involved. Similarly, common sense, experience and
engineering judgement are needed. The smart engineer will make a few check calculations
without using the computer, just to ensure that the answer is of the correct order of magnitude
and makes sense. Similarly, smart engineers will ensure that they understand the basic
principles involved, because it may not be possible to obtain the optimum design otherwise.
In this respect little has changed over the years, as the saga of Mr Nagler and Mr Goodrich
Following Nagler’s paper of 1918 on the ‘Obstruction of bridge piers to the flow of water’
there is a nice account of how this article was used by a Mr Goodrich to calculate the
backwater from a proposed development in the USA. The value turned out to be 3 inches (75
mm), which was unacceptable, so the city attorneys applied for a restraining order to prevent
further construction. However, following additional field measurements and a review of the
computations Mr Goodrich obtained a negative backwater. At the final hearing another, well-
experienced hydraulic engineer showed that about 1 inch (25 mm) of backwater could be
expected. Mr Goodrich wrote that

The explanation to the Court of the disappearance of the other 2 inches of backwater is not
anticipated with any great pleasure, but it will be easier than to tell how the water is piled up
higher below the bridge than above it.

He also considered that he was lucky to have discovered the limitations of the Nagler equation
before the final hearing so that a much more embarrassing situation had been avoided. Later
in the discussion Nagler pointed out that he had given several cautions regarding the general
applicability of his work and stated that

Engineers are too prone to select empirical formulas and coefficients from handbooks and
apply them to entirely irrelevant cases, never
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inquiring as to the natural limitations on the applicability which intelligent use would place on
them. Intelligent extension of experimental formulas and coefficients to practical problems is
the highest type of engineering, but the blind application of formulas smacks of student days.
The modern parallel to the Goodrich and Nagler saga is over-reliance on computers, which
has resulted in some notable ‘failures’. A multistorey car-park that developed significant
cracks shortly after opening springs to mind. This type of situation has been termed computer-
aided disaster (CAD). More than once a design has had to be hastily modified at the last
minute simply because an updated version of the software arrived and this yielded a
significantly different answer from the same input data. Engineers have been encountered
using hydraulic software to analyse and design bridges without having any idea of what it was
doing or what it was based on.
Because there have been relatively few in-depth investigations of bridge hydraulics, the
equations and research referred to in this book will also have been incorporated to a greater or
lesser extent into the commercially available software. Therefore this book and the software
may be considered complementary, and a possible use for the book may be to help explain the
fundamentals and to provide a means of checking the output from the software. However,
bearing in mind Nagler’s comments, it is still up to the engineer to use it wisely.
Metric units have been used throughout. Where necessary, charts, tables and equations have
been converted from English units.

The author wishes to thank all those who have contributed in any way to the preparation of
this book. This includes everyone who helped supply information or photographs. Every
effort has been made to obtain copyright permissions and to include acknowledgements where
necessary. Any omissions notified will be rectified at the earliest opportunity.
Thanks are also due to the many people who have contributed to the author’s own research
over the years, including the staff of the former South West Water such as Bob Hutchings and
Alan Rafelt, the County Bridge Engineers of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, staff at the
Environment Agency such as Tim Wood, and former colleagues such as Graham McInally .
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Principal notation
A numerical subscript attached to a symbol usually indicates the location of the cross-section,
or part of a cross-section, or the reach of a river according to context.
The bridge waterway opening may be referred to as the opening or the waterway.
The river is always referred to as the river or the channel.

a Cross-sectional area of flow in a (part full) bridge waterway

opening (m 2)
a MT Net area of bridge openings between the bed and the midtide
level in an estuary (m 2).
aW Total cross-sectional area of a waterway opening when
flowing full (m 2).
A Total cross-sectional area of flow in a river channel (m2).
AC Net area of flow between the channel bed and the critical
depth line (m2).
AMT Gross area of the channel between the bed and the midtide
level in an estuary (m 2).
AN Cross-sectional area of flow between the channel bed and
normal depth line (m 2).
AP Cross-sectional area of the submerged part of the piers (m2 ).
b Net width (i.e. excluding pier width) of bridge opening at
bed level at 90° to flow (m).
bP Width of an individual bridge pier measured at 90° to the
flow direction (m).
bS Width between abutments of a skewed bridge, measured
along the highway centreline (m).
bT Top width of free water surface in a bridge opening (m).
B Width of river channel (m).
BR Regime (Lacey) width of an alluvial channel measured at 90°
to the banks (m).
BT Top width of water surface between the river banks (m).
C, Cd , CD Coefficient of discharge (dimensionless).
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C' USGS method base coefficient of discharge (dimensionless).

CC Coefficient of contraction (dimensionless).
C F, CS Coefficients for free and submerged flow over a highway
embankment (dimensionless).
dS Total scour depth as a result of contraction, piers, abutments
and degradation (m).
d SA Depth of scour at abutment (m).
d SC Depth of scour in a contraction or bridge opening (m).
d SL Depth of local scour at piers and abutments (m).
d SP Depth of scour at a pier (m).
D Diameter of the (uniform) material comprising a river bed,
riprap etc. (m).
Db USBPR method differential ratio to calculate the fall in water
level across embankments.
DM Effective mean diameter (m)=1.25D50 in Chapter 8.
D50 Median diameter at which 50% of material by weight is
smaller than the size denoted (m).
e Eccentricity (numerical ratio of abutment lengths, or
conveyances or discharges).
E Total energy (m).
ES Specific energy, i.e. energy calculated above bed
level=Y+V2/2g (m).
ESC Critical specific energy (m) i.e. specific energy when the
flow is at critical depth.
fS, f (Lacey’s) silt factor for a sediment of diameter D.
F Froude number.
FM, FA Mean/average Froude number calculated from mean/average
depth on floodplain (Chapter 8).
FN Froude number with normal depth flow (=F4,
g The acceleration due to gravity (9.81 m/s 2).
h Height of water surface above the centre of curvature of an
arch (m).
hC Average depth of flow along a constricted tidal estuary at the
midtide level (m).
hF Head loss due to friction (m).
H Elevation of water surface above a datum level (m).
USBPR method bridge afflux (m) without adjustment for
piers, skew, or eccentricity.
USBPR method afflux at a dual bridge (m).
H1 Elevation above datum of water surface (with bridge) at
section 1.
H1A Elevation above datum of water surface (no bridge) at
section 1 with an abnormal stage (m).
Maximum afflux at cross-section 1 with normal depth=Y1 −YN
Maximum afflux at cross-section 1 with an abnormal stage
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Distance of the water surface below the normal depth line at

section 3 (m).
J Proportion of bridge waterway blocked by piers or piles, or
blockage ratio (HR method).
k USGS method adjustment factors (various subscripts) to base
coefficient of discharge.
k* USBPR method total backwater coefficient (dimensionless).
USBPR method total critical depth backwater coefficient
K Total conveyance of river channel (m 3/s).
Kb Conveyance of the part of the approach channel equivalent to
the bridge opening (m 3/s).
K, KA, KN Yarnell, d’Aubuisson and Nagler coefficients for flow past
piers (Chapter 5).
K AΦ Abutment scour adjustment factor for angle of attack
(equation 8.18).
K 1A, K2A Abutment scour adjustment factors for shape and angle of
attack (equation 8.17).
K 1P, K 2P, K3P Pier scour adjustment factors for nose shape, angle of attack
and bed form (equation 8.14).
Kσ Scour adjustment factor to allow for grading of bed material.
L Length of bridge waterway in the direction of flow (m), or
reach length with subscripts.
LA Length of bridge abutments or embankments normal to the
flow (m).
LC Length of a constricted tidal estuary (m).
LE Length of the bridge road embankment when overtopped, as
for a weir (m).
LS Length of spur dyke in the direction of flow (m).
M Bridge opening ratio=q/Q or a/A or b/B or Kb /K
ML Limiting opening ratio (dimensionless) at which the flow is
at critical depth.
n Manning’s roughness coefficient (s/m⅓).
P Wetted perimeter of a channel (m).
q Quantity of flow that can pass through the bridge opening
unimpeded (m3 /s).
q Discharge per metre width in Chapter 7 (m3 /s per m or m2 /s).
qC Discharge per metre width at the critical depth in Chapter 7
(m2 /s).
Q Total discharge (m3 /s).
Qb Discharge in the part of the approach channel corresponding
to the bridge opening (m3 /s).
QF Nominal discharge capacity of a waterway running full in
Chapter 7 (m3 /s).
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QMT Maximum tidal discharge in an estuary at midtide level

(m3 /s).
QMAX Maximum total discharge in a tidal estuary, including any
river flow (m3/s).
Q100 Discharge corresponding to the 1 in 100 year flood (m3 /s).
r Radius of curvature of an arch, or radius of entrance
rounding to waterway (m).
R Hydraulic radius of channel (=A/P m).
RS Regime scoured depth of flow (m) corresponding to channel
width BR .
sS Specific gravity (relative density) of sediment, bed material,
stone or riprap (dimensionless).
SF Longitudinal slope of total energy line (dimensionless).
SO Longitudinal slope of river bed (dimensionless).
S C* USBPR method afflux scour correction factor
T USGS method, height of water surface above bottom chord
of bridge deck (m).
T Tidal period between successive high or low water levels
U* Shear velocity=(gYSF)1/2 (m/s).
Scour-critical shear velocity at which bed movement occurs.
V Mean flow velocity (m/s).
VC Critical velocity (m/s), velocity when F=1.0
VE Threshold velocity at which erosion of bed material starts
VMAX Local maximum velocity in the bridge openings at midtide
level in an estuary (m/s).
VMEANMAX Mean maximum velocity in an estuary or tidal inlet with
normal spring tides (m/s)
VMT Average maximum velocity in the bridge openings at
midtide level in an estuary (m/s).
VN Mean velocity when flow in a river channel is at normal
depth (m).
VOL Tidal volume of an estuary calculated between low and high
tidal levels (m3 ).
VS Scour-critical velocity needed to move bed material and start
live-bed scour (m/s).
VSC Neill’s competent velocity at which the flow can just move
the bed material (m/s).
Vu Mean upstream approach velocity at either section 1 or 2
VV Velocity in the voids of riprap (m/s).
V2A Average velocity at section 2, in the opening, at the abnormal
stage that would exist without the bridge (m/s).
w Width of a chamfer on the entrance to a waterway (m).
w Median fall velocity of a particle in water in Chapter 8 (m/s).
W Channel width near a minimum energy opening measured
along a curved orthogonal (m).
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WSP Width of pier scour hole (m).

X Length approach embankment/abutments (m) for calculation
of eccentricity.
Y Depth of flow measured from the bed (m).
Y* Depth of flow required for a waterway opening to become
permanently drowned (m).
YC Critical depth (m), corresponding to critical flow (F=1.0) at
minimum specific energy.
Yd Downstream depth measured above mean bed level on the
channel centreline (m).
Y M, YA Mean depth, average depth (m). Numerical subscript
indicates location of cross-section.
Y MT Average depth at midtide level in an estuary (m).
YN Normal depth (m), e.g. as with uniform flow and predicted
by the Manning equation.
YS Water depth above the springings of an arch (m), i.e. above
where the arch starts.
YS Scoured regime depth of flow (m) in a natural channel
constriction (Chapter 8).
Y SN Normal regime scoured depth of flow in a bridge opening
Y SMAX Maximum regime scoured depth of flow in a bridge opening
Yu Upstream mean depth, the larger of the depths at sections 1
and 2 (m).
Y1 Depth at section 1 (including the afflux) upstream of the
bridge (m).
Y 1A Depth at section 1 without the bridge when abnormal stage
exists (m).
Z Vertical height of bridge opening (to the top of an arch) from
mean bed level (m).
∆AS Increase in cross-sectional area of flow caused by scour (m2 ).
∆d Degradation depth or long-term reduction in bed level (m).
∆h Difference in elevation of water surface between sections 1
and 3 (m).
∆H Differential head (m) across the bridge

∆k* USBPR method incremental coefficients (various) for afflux

∆Yu /Z Reduction in proportional depth by entrance rounding
(Chapter 7).
∆Q/QF Increase in proportional discharge by entrance rounding
(Chapter 7).
α Velocity head coefficient (dimensionless).
ε Proportion of energy recovered between two cross-sections
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v Kinematic viscosity (m2/s).

ρ Mass density (kg/m3). Subscript s indicates bed sediment or
stone riprap.
ø Angle of skew, angle of bridge embankments or piers to the
approach flow.
Φ Angle of bridge approach/abutments relative to flow
(equation 8.17).