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In small and medium sized bridges, shear keys are often designed in bridge abutments to provide transverse support to the bridge superstructure under lateral loads. They are not intended to carry vertical loads and they have important applications in resisting seismic loads.
Shear keys in bridge abutment are divided into two types, exterior or interior. Exterior shear keys have the demerit of the ease of inspection and repair. The shear keys are designed as sacrificial and it is assumed that once their capacity has been exceeded, the shear keys would not provide further support. As such, the bridge columns should be designed to provide transverse support once the shear keys fail to function.