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

About Dan Snyder

Dan Snyder is director of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance (SSSBA), where he works with SSSBA members to educate, inform and promote the many advantages of using steel for short span bridges including cost-effectiveness, time-saving bridge designs and life cycle analysis advantages. He is a digital marketing enthusiast, appreciating both the creative side of the process as well as the science behind it, and provides regular updates via his Pull Marketer blog at Dan can be contacted at
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