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Bridge Engineering:

Lessons from
Rome to Tacoma

Clear Lake MS Engineering

History of Bridge Development

100 B.C. Romans

2,104 years ago
700 A.D. Asia
Clapper Bridge
1,304 years
Tree trunk ago
Roman Arch Bridge

Arch design
evenly distributes
stresses Great Stone Bridge in China
Natural concrete Low bridge
made from mud Shallow arch
and straw Allows boats
and water to pass
History of Bridge Development


Truss Bridges
Mechanics of

Suspension Bridges

Use of steel in
suspending cables

Basic Concepts

Span - the distance between two bridge

supports, whether they are columns, towers
or the wall of a canyon.

Force -


Tension -
Compression Tension

Concrete has good compressive strength,

but extremely weak tensile strength. What
about steel cables?
Basic Concepts

Beam - a rigid, usually horizontal, structural element



Pier - a vertical supporting structure, such as a pillar

Cantilever - a projecting structure supported only at one end,

like a shelf bracket or a diving board

Load - weight on a structure

Types of Bridges
Basic Types:
Truss Bridge
Beam Bridge
Arch Bridge
Suspension Bridge Floating
Floating Bridge

Truss Beam Arch

The type of bridge used depends on the obstacle. The main
feature that controls the bridge type is the size of the obstacle.
Truss Bridge

All beams in a truss bridge are straight. Trusses are

comprised of many small beams that together can support
a large amount of weight and span great distances.
Types of Bridges

Beam Bridge

Consists of a horizontal beam supported at each end by piers.

The weight of the beam pushes straight down on the piers. The
farther apart its piers, the weaker the beam becomes. This is
why beam bridges rarely span more than 250 feet.
Types of Bridges

Beam Bridge

When something pushes down on the beam, the beam
bends. Its top edge is pushed together, and its bottom
edge is pulled apart.
Types of Bridges

Arch Bridges

The arch has great natural strength. Thousands of years ago,

Romans built arches out of stone. Today, most arch bridges
are made of steel or concrete, and they can span up to 800
Types of Bridges

Arch Bridges

The arch is squeezed together, and this squeezing force is
carried outward along the curve to the supports at each end.
The supports, called abutments, push back on the arch and
prevent the ends of the arch from spreading apart.
Types of Bridges
Suspension Bridges
This kind of bridges can span 2,000 to 7,000 feet -- way farther
than any other type of bridge! Most suspension bridges have a
truss system beneath the roadway to resist bending and
Types of Bridges

Suspension Bridges
In all suspension bridges, the roadway hangs from massive
steel cables, which are draped over two towers and secured
into solid concrete blocks, called anchorages, on both ends of
the bridge. The cars push down on the roadway, but because
the roadway is suspended, the cables transfer the load into
compression in the two towers. The two towers support most of
the bridge's weight.
Types of Bridges

Floating Bridge

Pontoon bridges are supported by floating pontoons

with sufficient buoyancy to support the bridge and
dynamic loads.
While pontoon bridges are usually temporary
structures, some are used for long periods of time.
Permanent floating bridges are useful for traversing
features lacking strong bedrock for traditional piers.
Such bridges can require a section that is elevated,
or can be raised or removed, to allow ships to pass.


But high maintenance!


How do the following affect your structure?

Ground below bridge
Bridge Engineering


To design a bridge like you need to take into account all the
forces acting on it:
The friction of the earth on every part
The strength of the ground pushing up the supports
The resistance of the ground to the pull of the cables
The dead weight and all vehicle loads
Then there is the drag and lift produced by wind and water
The turbulence as fluids pass the towers

Need to use appropriate materials and structural shapes in

the cheapest way, yet maintaining a certain degree of safety.
To account for natural disasters, engineers design bridges
with a factor of safety: usually around 3 or 4.
Case Study:
Tacoma Narrows

The first Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge collapsed due to wind-induced

vibrations on Nov. 7, 1940. The bridge over engineered it to withstand hurricane
winds, but the wind that day was only 40 mph what happened!?