”Building bridges” has become a popular metaphor for bringing people together. Socially speaking, it’s a worthwhile endeavor that usually yields fruitful results. But in order for bridge building to be successful, it requires thoughtful planning and consideration of a variety of factors. 

Physical bridges, too, require an extraordinary level of forethought and design. They need to understand the full scope of the project as well as every detail involved. From design and renderings to the construction and final inspections, bridges require a special kind of engineer to ensure their stability, longevity, and safety. Lives depend on it.

What kind of engineers build bridges? What are they responsible for? 

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is a broad category of engineering disciplines that largely focuses on public works including bridges, roads, airports, dams and waterways, utilities, railways, and the structural components of some buildings.

Within the field of civil engineering is a range of subdisciplines such as materials science, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, and many others. Most of these disciplines are highly interrelated and some may be referred to by different names. 

Which engineers are needed depends entirely on the type of project. Bridges, for example, vary widely in their size and use. A small country bridge spanning a river has considerably different requirements than a downtown city bridge crossing 10 lanes of highway. Both projects demand the same extreme attention to detail and commitment to safety, but each can require different types of civil engineers for planning and construction. 

Engineers Involved in Building Bridges

Building figurative bridges demands an understanding of diverse people, and how those people can work together. Building physical bridges is similar in that a civil engineer must have an in-depth knowledge of diverse yet related topics such as geology, materials, mathematics, environmental impact, and other factors. They must also understand how each one may affect the others. 

While the field of engineering includes a wide range of specialties, only a few are involved in the design, construction, and inspection of bridges. Here’s a list of those engineers and what they specialize in.

Structural Engineers

When it comes to the “bones and muscles” of buildings, structural engineers are responsible. These specialists ensure that any building — including bridges — is structurally sound and is able to withstand its intended design loads, and any possible environmental effects such as salt,, wind, earthquakes, rain, and snow. 

Not only are structural engineers tasked with ensuring the stability and strength of the bridge, but they’re also responsible for doing it as economically as possible. Not every bridge needs to be a seventh wonder of the world; most (nearly all) are designed to be sturdy and long-lasting within a strict budget using the lowest materials and labor budgets possible. 

Transportation Engineers

Oftentimes a bridge construction project will require the services of a transportation engineer. These professionals have expertise in transporting people and goods as safely and efficiently as possible. They spend their time planning, designing, constructing, and even operating facilities used for transportation purposes. 

Since transportation engineers are often experts in fields like urban planning, traffic control, technical forecasting, land use forecasting, and geometric design, they’re often called upon to assist with those aspects of bridge construction. 

Geotechnical Engineers

The stability and movement of soil and rock is the focus of geotechnical engineers. They study the mechanics of these materials to help solve engineering problems. With their knowledge of geology and geophysics, these specialists pay close attention to the land and subsurface materials and conditions. 

Whereas a bridge structure itself must be stable, the ground on which it sits must also be secure. A geotechnical engineer is capable of evaluating the soil and rock materials and creating a plan for constructing a bridge on it. 

What Kind of Engineer Builds Bridges?

All of the above types of engineers may be involved in a bridge construction project depending on the size and scope of the bridge. It’s always a good idea to research the experience and credentials of any engineer you may consider for any bridge project. 

Do you have questions about structural engineering? Areté Structures designs and builds fiberglass-reinforced polymer pedestrian bridges. Areté Infrastructure division designs and inspects major and minor bridges throughout the Southeast. Areté Engineering does structural engineering design of homes and commercial buildings, plans for wall removals, decks, and other renovations, and structural assessments on existing homes and buildings. Visit us at Home – Areté Engineers