Characterization of stormwater runoff from bridge decks in eastern Massachusetts, 2014–16

Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5033




The quality of stormwater runoff from bridge decks (hereafter referred to as “bridge-deck runoff”) was characterized in a field study from August 2014 through August 2016 in which concentrations of suspended sediment (SS) and total nutrients were monitored. These new data were collected to supplement existing highway-runoff data collected in Massachusetts which were deficient in bridge-deck runoff concentration data. Monitoring stations were installed at three bridges maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in eastern Massachusetts (State Route 2A in the city of Boston, Interstate 90 in the town of Weston, and State Route 20 near Quinsigamond Village in the city of Worcester). The bridges had annual average daily traffic volumes from 21,200 to 124,000 vehicles per day; the land use surrounding the monitoring stations was 25 to 67 percent impervious.

Automatic-monitoring techniques were used to collect more than 160 flow-proportional composite samples of bridge-deck runoff. Samples were analyzed for concentrations of SS, loss on ignition of suspended solids (LOI), particulate carbon (PC), total phosphorus (TP), total dissolved nitrogen (DN), and particulate nitrogen (PN). The distribution of particle size of SS also was determined for composite samples. Samples of bridge-deck runoff were collected year round during rain, mixed precipitation, and snowmelt runoff and with different dry antecedent periods throughout the 2-year sampling period.

At the three bridge-deck-monitoring stations, median concentrations of SS in composite samples of bridge-deck runoff ranged from 1,490 to 2,020 milligrams per liter (mg/L); however, the range of SS in individual composites was vast at 44 to 142,000 mg/L. Median concentrations of SS were similar in composite samples collected from the State Route 2A and Interstate 90 bridge (2,010 and 2,020 mg/L, respectively), and lowest at the State Route 20 bridge (1,490 mg/L). Concentrations of coarse sediment (greater than 0.25 millimeters in diameter) dominated the SS matrix by more than an order of magnitude. Concentrations of LOI and PC in composite samples ranged from 15 to 1,740 mg/L and 6.68 to 1,360 mg/L, respectively, and generally represented less than 10 and 3 percent of the median mass of SS, respectively. Concentrations of TP in composite samples ranged from 0.09 to 7.02 mg/L; median concentrations of TP ranged from 0.505 to 0.69 mg/L and were highest on the bridge on State Route 2A in Boston. Concentrations of total nitrogen (TN) (sum DN and PN) in composite samples were variable (0.36 to 29 mg/L). Median DN (0.64 to 0.90 mg/L) concentrations generally represented about 40 percent of the TN concentration at each bridge and were similar to annual volume-weighted mean concentrations of nitrogen in precipitation in Massachusetts.

Nonparametric statistical methods were used to test for differences between sample constituent concentrations among the three bridges. These results indicated that there are no statistically significant differences for concentrations of SS, LOI, PC, and TP among the three bridges (one-way analysis of variance test on rank-transformed data, 95-percent confidence level). Test results for concentrations of TN in composite samples indicated that concentrations of TN collected on State Route 20 near Quinsigamond Village were significantly higher than those concentrations collected on State Route 2A in Boston and Interstate 90 near Weston. Median concentrations of TN were about 93 and 55 percent lower at State Route 2A and at Interstate 90, respectively, compared to the median concentrations of TN at State Route 20.

Samples of sediment were collected from five fixed locations on each bridge on three occasions during dry weather to calculate semiquantitative distributions of sediment yields on the bridge surface relative to the monitoring location. Mean yields of bridge-deck sediment during this study for State Route 2A in Boston, Interstate 90 near Weston, and State Route 20 near Quinsigamond Village were 1,500, 250, and 5,700 pounds per curb-mile, respectively. Sediment yields at each sampling location varied widely (26 to 25,000 pounds per curb-mile) but were similar to yields reported elsewhere in Massachusetts and the United States. Yields calculated for each sampling location indicated that the sediment was not evenly distributed across each bridge in this study for plausible reasons such as bridge slope, vehicular tracking, and bridge deterioration.

Bridge-deck sediment quality was largely affected by the distribution of sediment particle size. Concentrations of TP in the fine sediment-size fraction (less than 0.0625 millimeter in diameter) of samples of bridge-deck sediment were about 6 times greater than in the coarse size fraction. Concentrations for many total-recoverable metals were 2 to 17 times greater in the fine size fraction compared to concentrations in the coarse size fraction (greater than or equal to 0.25 millimeter in diameter), and concentrations of total-recoverable copper and lead in the fine size fraction were 2 to 65 times higher compared to concentrations in the intermediate (greater than or equal to 0.0625 to 0.25 millimeter in diameter) or the coarse size fraction. However, the proportion of sediment particles less than 0.0625 millimeter in diameter in composite samples of bridge-deck runoff was small (median values range from 4 to 8 percent at each bridge) compared to the larger sediment particle-size mass. As a result, more than 50 percent of the sediment-associated TP, aluminum, chromium, manganese, and nickel was estimated to be associated with the coarse size fraction of the SS load. In contrast, about 95 percent of the estimated sediment-associated copper concentration was associated with the fine size fraction of the SS load.

Version 1.0.2 of the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model was used to simulate long-term (29–30-year) concentrations and annual yields of SS, TP, and TN in bridge-deck runoff and in discharges from a hypothetical stormwater treatment best-management practice structure. Three methods (traditional statistics, robust statistics, and L-moments) were used to calculate statistics for stochastic simulations because the high variability in measured concentration values during the field study resulted in extreme simulated concentrations. Statistics of each dataset, including the average, standard deviation, and skew of the common (base 10) logarithms, for each of the three bridges, and for a lumped dataset, were calculated and used for simulations; statistics representing the median of statistics calculated for the three bridges also were used for simulations. These median statistics were selected for the interpretive simulations so that the simulations could be used to estimate concentrations and yields from other, unmonitored bridges in Massachusetts. Comparisons of the standard and robust statistics indicated that simulation results with either method would be similar, which indicated that the large variability in simulated results was not caused by a few outliers. Comparison to statistics calculated by the L-moments methods indicated that L-moments do not produce extreme concentrations; however, they also do not produce results that represent the bulk of concentration data.

The runoff-quality risk analysis indicated that bridge-deck runoff would exceed discharge standards commonly used for large, advanced wastewater treatment plants, but that commonly used stormwater best-management practices may reduce the percentage of exceedances by one-half. Results of simulations indicated that long-term average yields of TN, TP, and SS may be about 21.4, 6.44, and 40,600 pounds per acre per year, respectively. These yields are about 1.3, 3.4, and 16 times simulated ultra-urban highway yields in Massachusetts; however, simulations indicated that use of a best-management practice structure to treat bridge-deck runoff may reduce discharge yields to about 10, 2.8, and 4,300, pounds per acre per year, respectively.

Suggested Citation

Smith, K.P., Sorenson, J.R., and Granato, G.E., 2018, Characterization of stormwater runoff from bridge decks in eastern Massachusetts, 2014–16: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5033, 73 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Site Selection
  • Data Collection Methods and Results of Quality-Assurance Sampling
  • Data Quality
  • Analysis Methods
  • Bridge-Deck Runoff Simulations
  • Quality of Bridge-Deck Runoff
  • Interbridge Comparison of Constituent Concentrations
  • Spatial Distribution of Bridge-Deck Sediment
  • Chemical Analysis of Sediment
  • Comparisons of Highway and Bridge-Deck Constituent Concentrations
  • Example Bridge-Deck Runoff Simulations
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Characterization of stormwater runoff from bridge decks in eastern Massachusetts, 2014–16
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
New England Water Science Center
xiii, 73 p.
United States
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):