The Power of Standardization for Bridge Design

High Point Lane Bridge, Boone County, MO

High Point Lane Bridge, Boone County, MO

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is undertaking a massive rapid-bridge replacement program and conducting it in a way that makes a lot of sense. Bernard Harris details the process in “Public-Private Partnerships Reinventing PennDOT” (LancasterOnline, May 14, 2014).

In 2012, Pennsylvania passed a Public-Private Partnership law which allows other companies to review the services that PennDOT provides and propose ways to improve upon them. This gives PennDOT the opportunity to provide services more quickly, efficiently, and at lower cost while transferring the cost of projects to the private sector.

The largest Public-Private Partnership under consideration would replace 550-650 of the state’s deteriorated bridges under one contract. State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch told construction industry professionals that he anticipates savings of as much as 40 percent in the design cost of each bridge. This is due to the fact that the same bridge design will be replicated throughout the state. He also expects to save 30 percent of construction costs because the same materials will be used for each project.

The reason that PennDOT Secretary Schoch can confidently assume these significant savings is because these bridge designs and materials will be standardized, rather than having to be designed and built individually. In addition to significant resource cost savings, hundreds of hours will be saved on what would have been spent on design.

The standardization of bridge designs makes a lot of sense. In 2012, the steel industry introduced standardized designs for short span steel bridges – those under 140 feet – through a free, web-based tool known as eSPAN140. To access the tool, county engineers and other bridge design professionals visit, type in a few parameters such as span length, width and the number of striped traffic lanes, and receive customized steel solutions in a PDF file in five minutes or less. The Steel Solutions document includes standard designs for rolled beam, plate girder, and buried soil steel structures. It also includes contact information for individuals and companies that can help build the bridge. For any questions related to the design, users can get free expert advice from the Bridge Technology Center. It’s that easy.

Even better, the bridges can be built with local work crews. Buchanan County (Iowa)

Engineer Brian Keierleber, P.E., and his crew just finished the Jesup South Bridge, which was designed with eSPAN140. Keierleber is already planning another eSPAN140-designed project.

Boone County (Missouri) Engineer Derin Campbell used the preliminary designs from eSPAN140 for the High Point Lane Bridge, the first plate girder short span steel bridge built using this tool. The bridge was fabricated and installed by DeLong’s, Inc., a Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance member and one of the manufacturers whose steel solutions are included in eSPAN140.

Standard steel bridge designs are a powerful cost-saving and time-saving tool for county, state and federal transportation officials. With a design tool that’s free to use – eSPAN140 – and delivers results in less than five minutes, it makes perfect sense to find out what it can do for you.

About Rich Tavoletti

Rich Tavoletti is Director of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance. He is also Director of the Container Market program for the Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute, and Executive Director of the Canned Food Alliance. Rich has extensive experience in marketing and communications. He was marketing manager at the Steel Recycling Institute. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at
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