Bridge Engineer

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Bridge Engineer


What do the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and the 7-Mile Bridge have in common? They are all American bridges designed by bridge engineers. Many people take bridge structures for granted, yet bridges connect people to cities and make transportation over water accessible by road. Bridge engineers are civil engineers who plan, design and supervise the construction, maintenance and decommissioning of a wide variety of bridge structures and related facilities. Since most major cities are built around a water source, bridges are a very important component of our infrastructure.

Bridge engineers start out as general civil engineers and with some experience branch out into this important specialized field. They meet with architects, lawyers, contractors and construction workers in order to make sure that bridge design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that bridge engineers must contend with. They create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible problems with a structure and in this, they generate solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, most civil engineers travel to the bridge sites to see their work in progress and to fulfil the stereotype many people have of an engineer with a hard hat, walking around a construction site.

There are many types of bridges engineers construct. The four most common ones are beam or girder, arch, suspension and cable-stayed. When an engineer decides which type of bridge will be built at a particular site, they must study the nature of the ground, length of the bridge required, the type of traffic using the bridge, and the construction materials that are available in order to make the most safe, cost-effective and practical decision. Originally bridges were just logs laid across the space to be crossed. However, simple bridges like this eventually rot or get washed away. Yet in many underdeveloped countries, bridges are still being built like this because there is no money supply or educated engineers to build modern bridges.

Bridge engineers use traditional and high-tech tools like computer-aided design (CAD), Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Systems, to solve problems and meet challenges. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards.
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  Interests and Skills  
Bridge engineers must be safety conscious and practical in decision making. They possess good communication skills because they work closely with contractors, architects and clients. Bridge engineers can analyze data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates and have the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. They must be dedicated to their projects, be creative and practical in their designs and be as knowledgeable as possible in the bridge engineering field. Finally, they should enjoy being innovative, doing work that requires precision and making solid decisions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan, design, develop and manage the construction and repair of bridges
  • Consult with clients, other professionals and government officials
  • Study, evaluate and investigate construction and land development sites
  • Work within the guidelines of the local government authority
  • Make sure design plans get approved by relevant authorities
  • Prepare cost estimates and contract documents for the work
  • Tender out the contract and find contractors to do the work
  • Supervise and monitor construction to ensure the structure is built in accordance with the construction drawings and contract
  • Work with professionals from other fields, such as, science, engineering, sales, marketing and management
  • Ensure construction standards are met
  • May attend construction site meetings with the contractor and client.
  • May specialize in foundation analysis, building and structural inspection, surveying and municipal planning
  • Working environments for bridge engineers are as varied as their projects. Most spend the majority of their time in offices on the computer, making mathematical calculations and phone calls. They also get to travel to project work sites and they sometimes must testify in front of a public hearing. They usually work anywhere between eight and ten hours each day and longer hours may be required if there are any emergencies. They often work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Bridge engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies such as the department of transportation, engineering consulting firms, construction companies, electrical utilities, research and educational institutions, communications companies, the manufacturing, processing and transportation industries and many other related industries. Some bridge engineers are self-employed and own their own engineering consulting firms.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, bridge engineers can become project managers and eventually advance to the management of very large projects. They can eventually be the chief engineers on projects like a large bridge that connects a city. Some experienced bridge engineers may decide to branch off on their own and establish their own construction or consulting companies. Those with PhDs might teach at a university or conduct research.

  Educational Paths  
Due to the nature of the job, bridge engineers require a university degree in civil engineering or in a related field of engineering. They must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) to secure employment and practice in their field. Some bridge engineers also get master's degrees in bridge or transportation engineering for more education and specialized experience.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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