Forensic Investigation of Failed Mast Arms of Traffic Signal Supported Structures


In Missouri, 11 traffic signal mast arms fractured at the arm-post weld connection in 7 years. To reduce this fatigue failure, the Missouri Department of Transportation developed a fatigue-resistant weld profile that increases the weld leg and reduces the slope of the weld at the toe. This study investigated causes of the failed arms, compared performance of new and old weld profiles, and suggested retrofitting measures for further investigation. The scope included a metallurgical investigation of one failed field mast arm, laboratory fatigue testing of five prototype mast arms (two new and three old profiles), and laboratory failure analysis of one arm tested to cracking. Metallographic and fractographic analyses indicated that the fatigue crack in the failed mast arm initiates near the weld toe of the arm due to undercutting, creating a sharp local toe angle. Location of undercutting at the heat-affected zone of the base material, where the material is softest, further contributed to early fatigue failure. Tests showed that the new weld profile does not consistently increase fatigue strength. Premature fracture surfaces of one tested arm indicated that the fatigue cracks initiate in an area at the weld toe as observed in the failed mast arm. Therefore, changing the weld profile alone is unlikely to increase mast arm fatigue life. Pinning the weldment surface at the weld toe of mast arms is suggested to increase the life of mast arms.


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Second Department

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





© 2002 National Academy Press, All rights reserved.