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Seismically challenged Chacao Channel Bridge will help develop the economy of Chiloé, Chile

Photo: COWI

​By replacing the existing car ferries, the new Chacao Channel Bridge will boost the future development of the sparsely populated region in Southern Chile. COWI North America will review the design and supervise the construction of the bridge in the geotechnically harsh environment.

​Situated in the pacific ring of fire, the Chacao channel area in Southern Chile is one of the most seismically exposed areas in world. The combination of seismic hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity, as well as the high wind speeds and strong tidal currents make the Chacao Channel a challenging environment.

By grasping the challenging conditions, COWI has been awarded the client consultancy contract for the iconic Chacao Channel Bridge project, which will connect the island of Chiloé with the mainland of Chile.

An important bridge to the area

The completion of the bridge is expected to bring jobs to the area as well as help develop the economy of the island. By connecting Chiloé with the mainland, commuters can now reduce their travelling time by up to 35 minutes, making it more attractive to build offices in the area. Additionally, it will be easier to transport goods to the island, creating a more sustainable living environment for the people of Chiloé.

The longest suspension bridge in South America

"The scope of the project is very large," says Steve Hunt, President and CEO of COWI in North America. "This will be the longest suspension bridge in South America once it is constructed, and it will take approximately six years to complete."

COWI has collaborated with the Chilean Ministry of Public Transport on the project during several phases since 2000, and previous projects included feasibility study and scheme design, preparation of design basis and preparation of tender documents.

The bridge will be a two-main-span continuous suspension bridge measuring 2,635 metres in length. Its key feature will be an inverted Y-shaped central pylon situated on the submerged rock Roca Remolino. The geology of the rock combined with the strong currents is another challenge to project.

Track record of taking on seismic challenges

"COWI is experienced with designing major bridges in highly seismic areas. Our past project examples include the Izmit Bay Bridge in Turkey, the Messina Bridge in Italy, the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge and the Cooper River Bridge in the US, and the Puente Nigale Bridge in Venezuela," states Sam Yao, Vice President, Marine Structures and Offshore Wind.

By Karen Øksnebjerg
Published 22.09.2014

Seismic activity in Chile

  • ​The biggest earthquake ever recorded occurred in 1960, registering a 9.5 on the Richter scale, and its epicentre was approximately 80 kilometres away from the Chacao Channel. To scale, seismic waves in strong earthquakes can travel over 1,000 kilometres and still maintain the intensity to cause damage to structures.
  • The Pacific ring of fire is a long chain of volcanoes and other tectonically active structures that surround the Pacific Ocean, and it is one of the most geologically active areas on Earth.
  • Roca Remolino means 'whirl rock' and is a submarine mountain gaining its name from the whirl effect it creates during strong tidal currents. Because it does not show up during low tides, it is a major traffic hazard along the Chacao Channel.

LAST UPDATED: 16.09.2016