Building Bridges: The Issues Involved With Designing, Building and Maintaining Bridges

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When it comes to being able to get around, bridges are incredibly important. They allow the safe passage where previously it was not possible, or where it was much more difficult giving us better links to the places we need to get to- both as pedestrians and drivers. However, we’re in the midst of a bridge crisis. With a significant chunk of the bridges currently standing being in disrepair, we need to find ways to both make them safe as well as erect better bridges for future use. Here’s what you need to know.

Why are bridges in disrepair such a problem?

Of course, bridges collapsing can be a massive risk to life. While complete bridge failure is rare, it does happen. Often, bridges have to be closed which can cause huge inconveniences. Many are still used despite being found as being structurally deficient- one in nine bridges in the US have been classed as this. While structurally deficient bridges are on the decline, those still being used remain a hazard. It only takes looking at the high-profile I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapse in 2007 to see what a huge impact a collapsed bridge can have. Thirteen people were killed, and another hundred and forty five were injured.

What are the practical issues in building and maintaining bridges?

It can take a long time to get projects surrounding building and maintenance of bridges off the ground. Often there are roads that need to be closed in order to gain access, and if these are main or busy roads then it can cause significant congestion and other traffic issues, even if they’re only shut for a short time. Bridges are often needed most in high population areas which further adds to the practical issues involved. In some areas, if a road has already had significant work done then it can be protected by local councils from any further works being done for a set period of time. These restrictions can last up to five year, and so of course these are all things that can slow down bridge and road projects. With fifty four thousand bridges all needing work, it can take a long time to work through what needs to be done due to planning and funding.

What are the costs involved?

One of the biggest issues when it comes to building and maintaining bridges is the cost. It’s estimated that it would cost around one hundred and forty billion dollars to make all of the necessary repairs to America’s bridges, which is a massive chunk of money for local and state councils and government to find. Politicians often turn their backs on the matter, as they don’t always see infrastructure as a worthy place to spend money. On top of this, taxpayers are also reluctant to fork out with survey suggesting that two thirds would be against paying more in fuel costs to fund these kinds of repairs. As well as having the time and resources to repair these bridges, of course cost does factor in massively and it tends to be the thing that halts both the building of new bridges and repairing of the old ones.

What can we do to make life easier in future?

One thing we can do is any future bridges that are built should be created to the highest specification. Materials and design should both be factored in, take stainless steel bridges for example which prevent against corrosion and last a long time. Of course, we can’t avoid maintenance costs completely and structures will need repairs and work done to them in time. But starting with the very best materials and design will mean less hassle later down the line. The design is also very important, there’s a lot more that goes into it than might be obvious. Engineers need to know how different loads can affect the structure and how it can hold up against things like natural disasters. The bridge design will depend on whether it’s used by pedestrians, cars, larger vehicles or trains. Putting as much research into the design of good bridges and the best materials to use is vital to stop them degrading quickly and ending up needing avoidable maintenance.

With more roads comes the need for more bridges. This means better bridges need to be built and old ones need to be properly maintained to keep us all safe.

Had you realised we were in such a crisis when it came to our bridges?

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