Iowa County Engineer to Save Over $100,000 Using Innovative Steel Design for Bridge Replacement Project

If you’re a county/state engineer or a bridge owner, cost is always a deciding factor in which material to choose for your next project. A new design using press-brake-formed steel tub girders (PBTG) is providing a durable, cost-saving solution for short span bridge projects.

A PBTG bridge consists of modular galvanized shallow trapezoidal boxes fabricated from Daniel Ave - PBTG Example2 - Sep 2019cold-bent structural steel plate. A concrete or Sandwich Plate System (SPS) deck is precast on the girder, making it a single unit. Guardrails can be added, and the structure can be transported by truck to the project site. The unit can usually be installed in one or two days by local crews using their own equipment.

Recently, Buchanan County (Iowa) Engineer Brian Keierleber was faced with a decision on how to replace the Daniel Avenue Bridge. Built in 1956, the span is 63 feet long, 21 feet wide and is posted at 17 tons, but still has a sufficiency rating of 57. It is situated on a Class A Road with two houses directly behind it, making the project site a bit challenging to navigate.

Initially, Brian considered steel, concrete T-beams and even railroad flatcars as bridge replacement options because of cost efficiencies and project site challenges. But when the project was let out for bids, he found out he could save nearly $100,000 with a PBTG bridge, even when specifying high chromate steel. This PBTG bridge bid utilizes the Con-Struct™ prefabricated bridge system. Due to the light weight of steel, Brian can save additional costs by reusing the concrete abutments on the current bridge.

A PBTG bridge is a viable option for projects like this because it’s durable, has a modular design so it is easy to transport, and can be installed by a local crew in one or two days, minimizing traffic delays and saving time and money.

PBTG bridges are currently being installed or in service in five states, including Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Texas and West Virginia. Is this a good solution for your state? Find out more at or contact Dan Snyder, director of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance, at

Daniel Ave - PBTG Example - Sep 2019

The spans for the Fourteen Mile bridge near East Lynn, West Virginia were installed on August 20, 2019. This is the first PBTG bridge for WV.


Posted in Accelerated Bridge Design and Construction, Bridge Design Economics, County Bridges, Modular Bridges, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Bridge Design Saves Months in Construction Schedule

The town of Roseville, Ohio has a new short span steelTub girders being placed Twitter bridge in place – the first of its kind in the state, with results that are attracting attention nationwide from county engineers; federal, state and local transportation officials; and bridge owners.

These results include:

  • Saving 3-4 months of construction time by fabricating the structure offsite.
  • Setting two modules on abutments in just 22 minutes.
  • Using a local crew for installation.
  • Completing the project ahead of schedule in just 26 days, which included demolishing the original bridge and abutments and adding new abutments and superstructure.
  • Expecting a service life of more than 100 years.

A New Way to Design and Install Short Span Bridges
The new Cannelville Road Bridge in Muskingum County, Ohio is a press-brake-formed steel tub girder (PBTG) bridge. Its unique design allows ease of delivery, accelerated bridge construction, and minimal maintenance during its lifetime.

The PBTG design consists of two modular shallow trapezoidal boxes fabricated from cold-bent structural steel plate. After the plate was formed for this project, a thin lightweight Sandwich Plate System (SPS) deck was bolted to the girder in the fabrication shop and guardrails were added, making it a modular unit that could be quickly assembled at the bridge site.

Two trucks delivered the bridge to the project site in prefabricated half-width modules, with each weighing approximately 31 tons. Both modules were erected and positioned on their abutments in just 22 minutes and bolted together in one day.

A waterproof membrane and asphalt wearing course were subsequently applied. The bridge deck was metallized with zinc on all surfaces to provide additional corrosion protection from the low pH levels of the stream. Other superstructure components were hot-dipped galvanized to prevent corrosion from road chemicals.

The PBTG system was chosen for this project becauseClose up of tub girders under bridge Twitter it was an ideal structure for the design challenges of this particular area, which has steep ravines and low-lying areas. The stream fills up and drains quickly after stormy weather, transporting large debris such as root balls and tree limbs. Other design options would have allowed the debris to collect underneath the bridge and cause damage. But with the smooth tub girders of the new bridge, debris easily flows under it.

The new bridge was financed in part with research funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It was constructed by a local crew in just 26 days, ahead of schedule. The work included removal of the existing bridge and abutments and the construction of new foundations, abutments and superstructure. The new bridge is longer than the previous structure at 52 feet, 6 inches; is 24 feet wide; and is designed to remain elastic under a TL-2 crash event. It was opened to service on May 27, 2017.

Doug Davis, P.E., P.S., Muskingum County Engineer, oversaw all aspects of the construction and installation of the new bridge and is ready to construct more of them.

The Cannelville Road Bridge is the second PBTG structure to be completed in the United States. The first PBTG structure was the Amish Sawmill Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa, which utilized a cast-in-place deck and was opened to service in January 2016.

For more information and a listing of the project team members, click here.


Posted in Abutments, Accelerated Bridge Design and Construction, Bridge Design Economics, County Bridges, FHWA, Installation, Modular Bridges, Plate Girder, Prefabricated Bridges, short span bridge design tools, Short Span Bridges, Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance, Steel Bridges, Substructure Elements, Superstructure, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Increase Your Options, Lower Your Costs With Steel

County engineers, state and local Department of Transportation (DOT) officials, owners and other bridge design professionals have some great educational opportunities coming up this fall to learn about the time and cost efficiencies to be gained from using steel for short span bridge design and construction. They include:

Western Bridge Engineers Seminar | September 6-8, 2017 | Portland, OR
Wednesday, September 6, Poster Session, 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm – Joel Hahm, P.E., Senior Engineer, Big R Bridge, will answer questions on the inspection and maintenance of galvanized steel buried bridges.

Friday, September 8, Technical Session, 8:30 am to 10:00 am – Joel Hahm, P.E., will conduct a technical session titled: “I Didn’t Know it Would be That Fast! ABC Advancements and Advantages With Buried Bridges.” Steel buried bridges provide design and construction efficiencies, are economical, and should be considered with any other bridge design options.

IMG_6957 - St. Johnsbury VT Twitter

Photo by Big R Bridge


2017 Structural Engineers Association of Ohio Annual Conference | September 7-8, 2017 | Columbus, OH
Thursday, September 7, Technical Session, 8:00 am to 9:15 am – Karl Barth, Ph.D., P.E., Samples Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at West Virginia University, will discuss the benefits of the innovative press-brake-formed steel tub girder (PBTG) technology. Karl was part of the industry group that developed and tested the technology. There are currently two PBTG bridges in service in the U.S., and many more are expected to be built as bridge design professionals learn about their time, cost and construction benefits.

“Ohio’s Muskingum County Bridge Replacement With SPS Deck on Press-Brake-Formed Steel Tub Girders” Webinar | Thursday, September 21, 2017 | 1:00 pm ET
Douglas Davis, P.E., Muskingum County Engineer; Dave Cox, Maico Industries, Inc.; and Rolando Moreau, Intelligent Engineering present a webinar on this innovative technology and the new Cannelville Road Bridge. The webinar is hosted by the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center at Florida International University.

Tub girders being placed Twitter


Association of Conservation Engineers (ACE) 56th Annual Conference | October 15 – 19, 2017 | Ogden, UT
Monday, October 16, 9:45 am to 10:30 am – Joel Hahm, P.E., and Holly Bentz, P.E., U.S. Forest Service will discuss “Bridges on the Malheur National Forest.”

North Central States Steel Consortium (NCSC) | October 30 – November 1, 2017 Detroit, MI
Tuesday, October 31, Technical Session, 9:30 am to 10:10 am – Joel Hahm, P.E. will discuss the advantages of steel buried bridges during “Structural Plate Buried Structures.”

Wednesday, November 1, Technical Session, 8:20 am to 9:10 am – Michael Barker, P.E., will present the results of his research on life cycle costs during this time at the session titled: “A 50-Year Assessment of Life Cycle Cost: Steel vs. Concrete.”

Wednesday, November 1, Technical Session, 10:15 to 10:45 am – Michael Barker, P.E. will discuss “Standardized Steel Bridge Design” and its advantages for short span structures.

Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Workshops | October 10-11, 2017 | Castle Rock and Grand Junction
The SSSBA will conduct two LTAP workshops in Colorado―October 10 in Castle Rock and October 11 in Grand Junction. Topics will include online design tools; steel bridge economics and life cycle cost comparisons; innovative design; steel buried structures; galvanizing steel bridges; and economical and practical steel detailing.

Ongoing Learning Opportunity: Free Short Span Steel Bridge Design Workshops. For more information about scheduling SSSBA’s half-day or full-day workshops, please contact SSSBA Director Rich Tavoletti at

Posted in Accelerated Bridge Design and Construction, Bridge Design Economics, Corrugated Structural Plate, County Bridges, short span bridge design tools, Short Span Bridges, Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance, Steel Bridges | Leave a comment

Improving the U.S. Bridge Infrastructure Grade With Steel Solutions

The 2017 ASCE Infrastructure Report Card gives the U.S. bridge infrastructure a C+ grade, unchanged from four years ago. More than 56,000 of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016, and the report claims “the most recent estimate puts the nation’s backlog of bridge rehabilitation needs at $123 billion.” Read more here.

Buchanan County, Iowa – “They always made it before!”

Short span bridges make up most of the nation’s bridge inventory. With national attention focused once again on America’s crumbling infrastructure, the members of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance (SSSBA) offer these proven cost-effective and time-saving solutions for raising the grade:

Tub girder technology. The press-brake-formed steel tub girder (PBTG) system is an innovative short span design solution that resulted from a challenge by the Federal Highway Administration to the steel industry. The system consists of modular galvanized shallow trapezoidal boxes fabricated from cold-bent structural steel plate. A concrete deck is recommended to be precast on the girder and the modular unit can be shipped by truck to the bridge site.

The system utilizes Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) practices, since it:

  • Can be installed in one or two days.
  • Is modular, allowing the use of a precast deck.
  • Is cost-effective ― as much as 1/3 less than a standard concrete girder structure, and
  • Is simple to fabricate, requiring very little welding.

PBTG bridges can be installed by local crews and do not require specialized equipment. The first PBTG bridge was constructed in Buchanan County, Iowa in 2015, and another is being built this month in Muskingum County, Ohio. Two more are scheduled for installation in West Virginia later this year. Read more about the PBTG system here.

Free customized project design tool. SSSBA members and their industry partners developed a free-to-use, web-based short span steel bridge design tool ― eSPAN140 ― that delivers preliminary customized solutions in three easy steps. Users can access the tool at and fill in a few basic parameters for their project. The tool provides a customized Solutions Book that includes:

  • Standard designs for rolled beam, plate girder, corrugated structural plate, and corrugated steel pipe,
  • Manufacturers’ customized prefabricated solutions,
  • Durability solutions,
  • The names and contact information for individuals and companies that can design and build the bridge, and
  • Access to complimentary design support from experts at SSSBA’s Bridge Technology Center.

To date, more than 2,750 preliminary designs have been delivered to bridge owners and designers by eSPAN140. The Jesup South Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa was the first bridge built in the U.S. with an eSPAN140 design. Read more here.

Free short span steel bridge design workshops. The SSSBA provides complimentary half-day or full-day workshops on short span steel bridge design to state and tribal Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAPs). Topics covered include practical and cost-effective steel bridge design and fabrication with eSPAN140, press-brake-formed steel tub girders, steel buried bridge design, galvanized coating solutions, and economical design with case studies. View a sample agenda here. For more information, contact SSSBA Director Rich Tavoletti at

Information on nontraditional design solutions – steel buried bridges. Steel buried bridges are a viable design option in almost all cases where a traditional bridge is used, and are particularly useful in the 25-foot to 80-foot span range. They are durable and resilient, with the ability to support very heavy loads such as mining shovels, large off-road trucks weighing over one million pounds, and freight train loads. They take advantage of ABC practices and can be built with local crews using their own equipment. Many buried bridges can be built in two days or less, excluding foundation work. Since the steel plates stack easily, in most cases they can be shipped to the project site on a single truck, saving shipping costs and reducing environmental impacts.

Recently, Buchanan County, Iowa replaced its 200th Street Bridge with a steel buried bridge, using a local crew which had never worked on this type of project before. The fabricator, county engineer and contractor who worked on this project comment on their experiences in a new video. Watch the video here.

A free webinar on steel buried bridge design is being offered in conjunction with Infrastructure Week 2017. The webinar, “Introduction to Structural Design of Steel Buried Bridges (Non-Seismic),” will be held on May 18 at 11:00 a.m. EDT, and offers 1 LU or 1 PDH. More information and registration details are available here.

On a day-to-day basis, bridge design professionals and owners in the U.S. face a daunting bridge repair and replacement challenge with limited time and resources. They consistently deliver creative and cost-saving solutions despite these limitations. The Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance and its steel partners are committed to helping them achieve their objectives with cost-effective, time-saving steel solutions. For more information, including research on cost savings and the life cycle benefits of choosing steel, visit Working together, we can rebuild the nation’s bridge infrastructure and improve its overall grade point average.

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Hidden in Plain Sight–the Design, Cost and Maintenance Advantages of Steel Buried Bridges

Sometimes, the best solutions to challenges we face can be hidden in plain sight. A new video released by the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance (SSSBA), National Corrugated Steel Pipe Association (NCSPA) and Big R Bridge invites cash-strapped, time-challenged bridge designers and owners to look beyond traditional above-ground bridge design solutions and consider a proven durable, cost-effective alternative.

The five-minute video covers the construction of the 200th Street Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa, where a steel buried bridge was chosen to replace a 40-foot-long, two-span timber stringer bridge built in 1956 that had rotting timbers. Interviews with Buchanan County Engineer Brian Keierleber, P.E.; Joel Hahm, P.E., Senior Engineer from Big R Bridge; and contractor Eric Zieser from Zieser Construction provide an interesting case study on the overall benefits of steel buried bridge systems and technical details on why this type of design was selected for this particular project. View it here.


Structural steel plate used as buried bridges is a viable design option in almost all cases where a traditional bridge is used due to industry advancements in design and analysis tools, as well as deeper corrugation profiles that allow for longer spans, heavier loads, and higher cover. This design is particularly useful in the 25-foot to 80-foot span range.

Design Advantages
Steel buried bridges are durable and resilient, with the ability to support very heavy loads. Cars, trucks and highway loads pose no problem, as these bridges can be designed to carry mining shovels and other equipment weighing over four million pounds, large off-road trucks weighing over one million pounds, and freight train loads. The secret to their success lies in taking advantage of the proven benefits of soil-structure interaction, where the backfill and structure work together to support the load.

Lead times on the design and material acquisition for a buried bridge are usually much faster than a traditional bridge, as the structure is pretty much designed by the time the project is awarded. Approval drawings can be prepared very quickly, and in many cases it can take just weeks to go from a signed contract to having a product on site.

Even better, potential buried bridge design solutions can be viewed free of charge with the website tool eSPAN140 developed by the SSSBA and several partners. The tool requires only three project inputs, and provides the user with contact information for SSSBA member companies that can quickly provide a customized design solution. Try it here.

Cost Advantages
Buried bridges take advantage of Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) techniques and can be built with local crews using their own equipment. The four-man crew that worked on the 200th Street Bridge had no prior experience on this type of bridge, yet found it easy and manageable to construct using basic equipment. Many buried bridges can be built in two days or less, excluding foundation work.

Since the steel plates stack easily, in most cases they can be shipped to the project site on a single truck, saving shipping costs and reducing environmental impacts. At the site, individual plates can be handled with skid steer loaders, forklift trucks, backhoes, and other light equipment.

Because they are compact, structures can be shipped when ready and easily stored in the yard or at the site and built when the schedule permits.

Maintenance Advantages
There is no bridge deck to maintain on a buried bridge, and there are no joints or bearings to repair and replace, resulting in low maintenance and inspection costs.

Additionally, since there is little differential movement or settlement between the buried bridge and adjacent embankments, the “bump at the end of the bridge” that occurs with traditional bridges is effectively eliminated. As a result, maintenance at the surface is essentially the same as it would be for any other section of the road.

Additional Information
There are many more benefits to steel buried bridges. In addition to the video, the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance includes a technical Q&A with Joel Hahm on its website. Click here to view the Q&A.

The National Corrugated Steel Pipe Association and Big R Bridge offer additional information on these bridge systems.

In Buchanan County, Iowa, the drivers and passengers of cars, trucks and heavy equipment who cross over the 200th Street Bridge may not even realize they’re on a bridge―but those who designed and built it can be confident that it will provide safe crossings for many years to come.

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Life Cycle Costs Matter When Comparing Steel and Concrete Girder Bridges

As a bridge engineer, professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Wyoming, and a member of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance’s Bridge Technology Center, Michael Barker, Ph.D., P.E., makes frequent michael-barkerpresentations on the economics of short span bridge design to county engineers, state Department of Transportation (DOT) engineers and bridge owners. Over the years, he has received numerous questions about Life Service and Life Cycle Costs, especially concerning steel and concrete girder bridges. His answers were always anecdotal, as research didn’t exist―until now.With a keen interest in finding answers to these persistent questions, Dr. Barker took a sabbatical from the university to conduct his own research. He started with a comprehensive inventory of bridges and consideration of initial costs and installation dates, maintenance costs and timing, and end-of-service dates. After considering the availability of historical data, he narrowed the scope of research to include initial costs, future costs, and service lives of 1,186 typical steel and concrete state bridges in Pennsylvania built between 1960 and 2010.

A portion of Dr. Barker’s research focused on short-length bridges of 140 feet or less, which make up approximately half of the U.S. inventory that needs to be repaired or replaced. The research examined costs with respect to variability in bridge type, span length, number of spans, and bridge life. Typical bridges are defined in the study as those with concrete decks supported by steel rolled beams, steel plate girders, precast concrete boxes, or precast concrete beams. Working from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) historical records, he developed a database to determine and compare the life cycle costs of steel and concrete girder bridges. More detailed information on the parameters of the research and determination of values for life cycle costs are included in the presentation located here.

For the short-length bridges included in the PennDOT database, the research demonstrated:

  • The steel I-beam had the longest life.
  • The steel I-beam had the lowest cost.
  • Steel bridges have lower future costs compared to initial costs.
  • None of the bridges clearly beat out the others, meaning any one type of bridge may be the most economical for a given bridge project.

Overall Results
After analyzing the extensive data collected, Dr. Barker concludes:

  • Typical steel and concrete bridges are competitive on initial costs, future costs, life cycle costs and bridge life.
  • For any given bridge project, steel or concrete bridge types may be the most economical. Therefore,
  • Owners should consider both steel and concrete alternatives for individual bridge projects.

The research results do not provide a clear preference for either material. However, the results clearly disprove generally accepted assumptions by bridge engineers that concrete girder bridges are the least-cost solution for every short span project.

It is clear from the research that bridge owners and design professionals who want to find the most economical and long-lasting solutions for repairing and replacing their bridge inventories should conduct a thorough cost analysis that considers the potential benefits of steel and concrete options. Conducting the analysis upfront could save thousands of dollars down the road in maintenance and repair costs.

To download the complete report, “Historical Life Cycle Costs of Steel and Concrete Girder Bridges,” click here.

To download the Fact Sheet, click here.

For more information, contact Dr. Barker at

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Turning a Challenge Into an Innovative Design Solution

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” claims a popular adage. But sometimes lasting change comes from a good old-fashioned challenge.

The Amish Sawmill Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa is the first steel press-brake-formed tub girder bridge in service in the  United States.

The Amish Sawmill Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa is the first steel press-brake-formed tub girder bridge in service in the United States.

One example is when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) charged the North American steel industry in 2009 to “develop a cost-effective short span steel bridge with modular components which could be placed into the mainstream and meet the needs of today’s bridge owners, including Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC).” Grappling with a national bridge inventory overrun with structurally deficient and functionally obsolete structures―nearly half of which fall in the short span category of under 140 feet―the agency was ready for some new ideas.

Stepping up to the challenge, the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance (SSSBA) reached out to 30 steel-related and government organizations, university faculty and bridge owners to tackle the problem. The Modular Steel Bridge Task Group was born, with Karl Barth, Ph.D., P.E., Samples Professor – Civil and Environmental Engineering at West Virginia University, appointed as chairman. After considering several options, the group decided on a shallow steel press-brake tub girder technology ― also known as folded plate girder or folded plate ― to meet the FHWA objectives for economic value, innovation, and ABC practices. A preliminary specimen design for the new system was developed, and three years of initial testing followed. Remarkably, the idea went from concept to reality in just three years.

What’s a PBTG?
The press-brake-formed tub girder (PBTG) system is different from a traditional bridge because it consists of modular galvanized shallow trapezoidal boxes fabricated from cold-bent structural steel plate. The modules are available in hot-dipped galvanized or weathering steels, and can be easily transported by truck to the project site.

The system utilizes standard plate widths (based on availability) and is optimized to achieve maximum structural capacity, with most of the steel in the bottom flange and increased torsional stiffness. It is versatile for multiple-deck options.

Modular precast decks are recommended. Deck options include pre-topped, Sandwich Plate System, full-depth panel and partial-depth panel.

Mastering the ABCs
The press-brake-formed tub girder system utilizes Accelerated Bridge Construction practices, since:
•  The tub girders can be installed in one or two days.
•  It’s modular, allowing the use of a precast deck.
•  It’s cost-effective―as much as 1/3 less than a standard concrete girder structure.
•  It’s simple to fabricate, requiring very little welding.
•  It reduces the need for additional details such as stiffeners and cross frames.

Press-brake-formed tub girders can be used for both tangent and skewed configurations, as well as simple and continuous spans. They are recommended for single spans up to 60 feet, but can be spliced for spans up to 80 feet.

From Blueprint to Service
Buchanan County (Iowa) Engineer Brian Keierleber, P.E. was awarded a grant from the FHWA’s Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment Program (IBRD) to replace the Amish Sawmill Bridge at 1358 Dillon Avenue in Fairbank, Iowa. The $350,000 grant was awarded on the basis of using a trapezoidal bent steel girder section supported on Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS), laying the groundwork to install the first PBTG bridge in the United States.

Construction on the Amish Sawmill Bridge began in late summer 2015 and was completed in December 2015. The deck for this project was cast-in-place, rather than using modular pre-cast deck units, which added to the time of construction. It was built with a local crew, and was dedicated on January 8, 2016 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring several government and transportation officials.

The idea is catching on, and three more PBTG bridges are scheduled for construction in 2016―two in West Virginia and one in Ohio. In February 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation and Muskingum County were awarded an Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) Demonstration grant to replace a bridge on County Road 7 – Cannelville Road using PBTG technology with a steel Sandwich Plate System deck.

Several state Departments of Transportation have expressed interest in building PBTG bridges in their jurisdictions. The technology is appealing because it offers: 1) significant cost savings, 2) ease in shipment and fabrication, 3) accelerated construction, 4) design versatility, and 5) sustainability―steel is the world’s most recycled material and at the end of the bridge’s life, it will be transformed into another steel product. With so many benefits, the press-brake-formed steel tub girder technology can help rebuild America’s infrastructure―an innovative and effective solution to the FHWA challenge.

For more information on how press-brake-formed tub girders can meet your bridge replacement needs, contact Dr. Karl Barth at or Rich Tavoletti at

Posted in Accelerated Bridge Design and Construction, Bridge Design Economics, County Bridges, FHWA, Modular Bridges, Plate Girder, short span bridge design tools, Short Span Bridges, Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance, Steel Bridges | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Breathing New LIFE Into Short Span Steel Bridge Design

It’s no secret that the U.S. infrastructure needs an overhaul, especially for many of its structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges – nearly half of which fall in the short span category.

To address this national crisis, the Federal Highway Association (FHWA) introduced the Highways for LIFE initiative to promote the development of bridge design and construction that leads to Long-lasting bridges that are Innovative, have Fast construction times, and are economically Efficient.

The Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance (SSSBA) took on the Highways for LIFE challenge. Working with several partners, the group explored new methods for increasing the efficiency of steel girder bridge design. They developed a set of standardized designs that are now included in an easy-to-use online tool called eSPAN140. Available to use free of charge at, the tool offers four major sets of bridge designs for spans between 40 feet and 140 feet ― “limited depth” rolled beam sections, “lightest weight” rolled beam sections, homogeneous plate girder sections, and hybrid plate girder sections. The girders are designed in five-foot increments. eSPAN140 provides users with customized steel design solutions for their bridge projects.

Taking the next step, the eSPAN140 developers worked with buchanan-1Buchanan County (Iowa) Engineer Brian Keierleber, P.E. and others to construct the first bridge designed with eSPAN140. Opened to service in 2013, the Jesup South Bridge serves local residents as well as researchers by providing data from live load testing that will serve as a benchmark for future analytical studies on short span steel bridge behavior.

A just-released technical report details the development of eSPAN140 and its associated design standards, provides an overview of the design of the Jesup South Bridge project, and describes the research methods and field tests conducted on that bridge. Using data from both the physical field tests of the Jesup South Bridge as well as the analysis of finite element models simulating the experiments, a series of standardized bridge responses were assessed. The report provides experimental and analytical testing data which proves that eSPAN140 is quite capable of producing efficient and economical solutions in the short span range ― concluding that eSPAN140 provides all the necessary parameters for county engineers to refine and synthesize an effective short span steel bridge design.

Titled “eSPAN140 Performance Assessment: V-65 Jesup South Bridge (Buchanan County, Iowa),” the report is available to download free of charge. Download the report.

Why should county engineers; bridge designers at local, state and federal Departments of Transportation; bridge owners; professors; students and others read the report? Because it provides a detailed look at the future of short span steel bridge design with solutions that can be implemented today:

  • eSPAN140 produces customized, efficient and economical solutions for bridges with spans of 140 feet or less.
  • eSPAN140 provides the necessary parameters to refine and synthesize an effective short span steel bridge design.
  • eSPAN140 expedites the design process and provides a more streamlined process for shop drawing review, eliminating many weeks in the timeline of a project.

While the infrastructure challenges facing the U.S. are daunting, they are not insurmountable. A proven, cost-effective engineering solution is available to those charged with meeting the challenge. It starts with

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Smart Ways to Save Time and Money on Short Span Bridge Design and Construction

While America’s infrastructure continues to crumble, federal lawmakers are still unresolved on how to fund these projects. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that an additional $150 billion per year is required through 2020 to meet the national infrastructure crisisBoggs Road Bridge

In the meantime, bridges continue to need repair or replacement. Short span bridges (140 feet or less) dominate the national inventory, and county engineers are forced to find innovative ways to fund and resource these projects. With the increasingly growing demand and continued gridlock for additional funding, what’s a county engineer to do? Here are some options to consider.

“Bundling” Bridges and Other Approaches With Cost-Saving Results

Going at it Alone
Buying in bulk to save costs works for groceries, and can also be applied to bridges. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) demonstrated this approach when it launched a $685 million Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program in September 2008, with the goal of having 802 bridge projects across each of its 114 counties completed by the end of 2014. Nearly 250 of those bridges were rehabilitation projects processed through the DOT’s monthly letting schedule, with 100 under contract by the spring of 2009. The remaining 554 bridges were complete replacements through a single design-build contract, which was undertaken by KTU Constructors.

The results are impressive – all 802 bridges were completed in just 3.5 years (more than a year ahead of schedule), with more than 90 percent of the work performed by Missouri workers (Read more here). This program was recognized with the People’s Choice Award in the 2013 America’s Transportation Awards competition sponsored by the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA and the National Chamber of Commerce.

Public/Private Partnerships (P3)
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce defines this relationship as such: “A typical P3 works as a contract between a private entity and a state or local government to help finance and build a specified infrastructure project; the private partner may also take on responsibility for managing and maintaining the project. In return, the private entity is paid back through tolls, gas tax revenues or any associated fees. Read more here.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) took a P3 approach with its Rapid Bridge Replacement Program to address the state’s nearly 4,200 structurally deficient bridges. Approved in September 2013, this program was selected to replace 558 of those bridges, with the benefits of less construction time, significant cost savings for taxpayers, and minimal impact on the traveling public. In October 2014, Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners was selected as PennDOT’s private partner.

The bridges selected for the Rapid Bridge Replacement Program have similar characteristics, are relatively small and can be designed and constructed to standard sizes. Their similarity allows for streamlined design, prefabrication of standardized components such as beams, and a compressed time frame for replacement.

Under the contract, the company and its subcontractors will manage the bridges’ design, construction and maintenance for 25 years after construction is complete, while PennDOT maintains ownership of the bridges throughout the contract. Construction begins this summer, and all 558 bridges must be replaced within three years. Significant savings will be realized: The average cost for design, construction and maintenance per bridge in the project is $1.6 million; compared with PennDOT’s standard process, where the cost to design, construct and maintain a bridge for 28 years would average more than $2 million. The savings will be used to address other infrastructure needs. Read more here.

A New Approach Offering Even More Cost Savings
In a fairly new approach, some county engineers are crossing state lines to explore similar options to “bundle” their bridge projects with neighboring Departments of Transportation. This strategy empowers multiple states to combine their funding and workforce resources to get the most cost-effective and time-saving results.

County engineers can take additional steps to cut costs by choosing steel for their projects and using a new free, web-based tool, eSPAN140, to design them. The cost of a steel bridge can be lower than a concrete bridge, as demonstrated in a comparison study of two nearly identical short span bridges built with steel and concrete in Audrain County, Missouri. Researchers found that steel saved more than 25 percent over the concrete superstructure, with an overall 19.3% savings in the total cost of the structure. Read more here.

eSPAN140 delivers additional cost savings by providing simplified standard plans for rolled beam, plate girder, corrugated structural plate, and corrugated steel pipe structures. eSPAN140 also provides contact information for multiple fabricators with the capacity to replace hundreds of bridges quickly. To use eSPAN140, the user simply enters a minimum of three project requirements and receives customized design results in less than five minutes. Since its launch in 2012, more than 1,800 designs have been generated by eSPAN140.

With these resources readily available, steel is a logical choice for bundled solutions that save taxpayers and state DOTs even more time and money.

Using Local Crews
A new video is now in production that will provide comprehensive training for county crews on how to construct a short span steel bridge in 30 days. The work is demonstrated by a seasoned crew working on two bridge replacement projects in Muskingum County, Ohio – the Green Valley Road Bridge and the Boggs Road Bridge. The use of local crews is a proven cost-saving measure in the construction of short span bridges.

To learn more about the cost-effective benefits of steel or to request a free workshop for your state’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Center, contact Dan Snyder at

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Joining the National Focus on America’s Infrastructure Challenges

Tub Girders - WVU Lab 1 - Mar 2014 low res

The press-brake-formed tub girder is a cost-effective new technology for short span steel bridge design. Learn more at a free webinar on May 12 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT.

For one week this month, several prominent organizations representing business, labor and public policy will focus on the United States’ infrastructure challenges. They will host events and activities to “highlight the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems, and the essential role infrastructure plays in our economy.” Infrastructure Week 2015 will be held from May 11-15.

The steel industry is participating with a free webinar on “Innovative, Cost-Effective Options for Short Span Steel Bridge Design” being held Tuesday, May 12 from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EDT. In cooperation with the American Iron and Steel Institute and the American Galvanizers Association, the webinar will be conducted by Dr. Greg Michaelson, Professor at the Weisberg Division of Engineering at Marshall University and a member of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance. Continuing education credits are available. Register for the free webinar here.

Dr. Michaelson will discuss a new technology for short span bridges with the potential to deliver significant cost savings for bridge owners and shorter construction times for crews (and thus fewer traffic delays). This press-brake-formed tub girder technology consists of modular galvanized shallow trapezoidal boxes fabricated from cold-bent structural steel plate. Several different options are available for the deck, including precast concrete and sandwich plate systems (SPS). These modular units can then be transported by truck to the bridge site. Read about the research here.

The new system offers several advantages:

  • It’s modular, so it can be quickly transported to the construction site.
  • It can be installed in one or two days.
  • It’s simple to fabricate and install.
  • It can save significant fabrication costs.
  • It requires fewer details.
  • It can be used for both tangent and skewed configurations, as well as simple and continuous spans.
  • It has the potential to cost-effectively replace thousands of short span bridges in need of repair or replacement.
  • It has the potential to open business opportunities for bridge fabricators that want to manufacture the units.

The first two bridge projects utilizing this system will be constructed this year in Iowa and West Virginia. The Amish Sawmill Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa will be constructed with an FHWA Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment (IBRD) program grant, starting in late summer. Several potential sites are currently being evaluated in West Virginia, with construction anticipated to begin in late summer as well.

During the webinar, Dr. Michaelson will also discuss an innovative new design tool, eSPAN140, which is free, web-based, and delivers customized preliminary short span steel bridge design in three steps and under five minutes. The Jesup South Bridge in Buchanan County, Iowa was the first bridge in the nation to be built from an eSPAN140 design. Read more here.

Join the discussion during Infrastructure Week 2015. Register for the free webinar, and check out the other events being held. For more information on press-brake-formed tub girders and other cost-effective short span steel bridge solutions, please contact Dan Snyder at

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