InTrans / Jul 07, 2015

The ABCs of (fast) bridge construction

The challenge: One out of every four publicly owned bridges in the United States is either structurally deficient (based on its condition) or functionally obsolete (based on current standards). Many of these bridges simply need to be reconstructed or replaced. Using traditional methods, however, bridge reconstruction or replacement can result in months of bridge or road closures, detours, and work zones.

The good news: Recent developments in accelerated bridge construction (ABC) such as slide-in bridge construction, prefabricated bridge elements and systems, etc., can reduce such delays—and the related safety problems, inconveniences, and costs—from months to weeks, even days.

The not-so-good news: The traveling public isn’t experiencing the full benefits of ABC. In some cases, agencies haven’t yet adopted ABC technologies and processes due to a lack of knowledge and/or experience. In other cases—for example, in areas prone to high seismic activity/earthquakes—there are technological or logistical obstacles to ABC. Finally, ABC technologies are still being developed to repair and renew (rather than replace or reconstruct) bridges when appropriate. Additional ABC technologies related to repair and rehabilitation are needed.

To address these issues, the Bridge Engineering Center (BEC) at the Institute for Transportation is part of a recently formed, U.S. Department of Transportation supported University Transportation Center (UTC) focusing on the development and deployment of ABC technologies and policies. Iowa State University (ISU) has long been nationally recognized for its bridge engineering program, which emphasizes ABC.

Housed at Florida International University (FIU), the ABC-UTC consortium includes FIU, ISU, and the University of Nevada, Reno. The consortium conducts research, education, and technology transfer that will ultimately lead to more widespread use of ABC—all with the ultimate goal of dramatically reducing the duration of bridge projects.

A highlight of the ABC-UTC is its annual Accelerated Bridge Construction Conference in December. More than 750 people participated in the 2014 event.

For more information contact Brent Phares,
BEC director,

This aritcle is part of the CTRE EnRoute 2014 Year-at-a-Glance series. Download the full document (.pdf).