Estimating the lifespan of infrastructure is a normal component of its planning and
maintenance. Whether infrastructure is new or has been in place for decades,
officials must know when to expect repairs, rehabilitations, or replacements to
become necessary.

Culverts are an integral part of city, county, and state infrastructure systems. But
how long should a concrete culvert last? The answer may depend on the types of
concrete used in culvert designs and factors affecting the state of the concrete
material itself.

Types of Concrete Used in Culvert Designs
Different types of concrete may be used in the design of culverts. Below are some

Reinforced Concrete Pipe (RCP)
Reinforced with steel bars or wire mesh embedded within it, RCP boasts enhanced
strength and endurance to withstand various loads and pressures exerted on it
during its service life.

Pre-Stressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe (PCCP)
PCCP features a core of concrete encased in a thin steel cylinder, providing added
strength and resistance against internal pressure and external loads.

Precast Concrete
Precast concrete is manufactured in a controlled environment and then transported
to the construction site. The manufacturing process ensures high quality, uniformity,
and accuracy.

Cast-in-Place Concrete
Cast-in-place concrete is poured and cured directly at the construction site. This
method provides greater flexibility in design and adaptability to complex forms and
shapes. However, cast-in-place concrete is more susceptible to weather conditions
during curing.

US Army Corps of Engineers Standards
According to the US Army Corps of Engineers' Engineer Manual 1110-2-2902, a
concrete pipe should last between 70 and 100 years under ideal conditions.
However, individual states can set their own expectations for culvert lifespan based
on local conditions; these expectations typically range from 50 to 100 years.

Factors That Affect Concrete Culvert Longevity
Despite expectations for a long lifespan and decades of durability, several factors
can affect the longevity of a concrete culvert.

Freeze-Thaw Cycles
Repeated freeze-thaw cycles can lead to the deterioration of concrete over time,
reducing its lifespan. If water infiltrates tiny cracks and then freezes and expands,
the cracks grow bigger. When the ice melts, more water can get in, and more ice
forms when freezing temperatures hit again, enlarging cracks further.

Flow Velocity and Abrasion
High flow velocities carrying abrasive materials can cause erosion of the concrete
surface, leading to premature failure of concrete culvert pipes as well as concrete
headwalls and wing walls.

Corrosion from Soil and Atmospheric Conditions
Certain soil types and atmospheric conditions can cause corrosion of concrete,
significantly affecting the material’s durability and lifespan. Both acidic and alkaline
soils can affect concrete, as can air and water pollution. Even salty sea air and
saltwater can cause concrete deterioration over time.

When concrete deterioration occurs, a culvert lining system can be put in place to
rehabilitate the culvert without requiring full reconstruction or disruption of traffic

Culvert Longevity Is Relative to Materials and Local Conditions
In theory, concrete culverts should last as long as 70–100 years. When planning
a concrete culvert installation or rehabilitation, consider local environmental
conditions and the type of concrete used to make informed decisions about
expectations of the longevity of concrete culverts.