Research News

Faculty members publish primer on bridge engineering and planning


Published March 5, 2015

Two UB faculty members have co-authored a book on the planning decisions and engineering challenges that surround one of this nation’s most significant pieces of public infrastructure: bridges.

Bridges: Their Engineering and Planning is jointly authored by George C. Lee, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and Ernest Sternberg, professor and chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

Published by SUNY Press, it was released on March 1.

"Bridges" By George Lee and Ernest Sternberg

With some 600,000 bridges in the U.S., or one bridge for every 500 U.S. citizens, decisions on whether and how to build, maintain, upgrade or replace these superstructures are matters of great public concern, according to the authors. Typical state highway departments spend 30 percent of their budgets on them.

“We need to know what goes into building a bridge that stands up against gravity’s best efforts to pull it down,” Sternberg and Lee write in the opening chapter.

The book is intended as a primer for a wide audience, from students considering careers in civil engineering or transportation planning, to public officials, to the layperson interested in learning more about this distinctive feature of the built environment.

In addition to the latest in multi-hazard planning for bridge design and construction, the book examines an issue that plagues nearly every bridge project: the length of time it takes to complete it. “If it’s not just replacing one on an approved alignment, it takes 7.5 to 20.5 years, from time of acceptance of initial proposal until ribbon cutting,” says Sternberg. “We explain the process and give some of the reasons.”

Designing a bridge to withstand threats from flooding, scour and possible terrorist attacks; navigating politics and policy; and understanding why bridges are notorious traffic chokepoints are among the other topics addressed in “Bridges.”

Lee and Sternberg also emphasize a reason for the emerging national infrastructure crisis: the short lives of bridges, often just 60 years. Observing that Roman bridges have lasted thousands of years, they argue that the truly sustainable modern bridge is the one that will last a millennium. As the nation approaches a trillion-dollar investment to solve the infrastructure crisis, the authors propose the U.S. mandate a new generation of far-more-durable infrastructure.