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Insights How are America's bridges built to stand up to natural disasters

Bridges are considered among some of the greatest feats of engineering, and meticulous planning and design is required to build them so that they can withstand natural disasters. However, the Earth is becoming warmer because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere. In turn, scientists have observed an increase in more extreme weather events and natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and floods.

America has experienced its fair share of natural disasters, including the recent Hurricane Ida and winter storm in February 2021 that caused widespread destruction across different parts of the country. These events are becoming more frequent and are imposing a threat to life, whilst also presenting a challenge to engineering. So what can we do to mitigate the effects on our lives and the infrastructure around us?

image of cars driving along a bridge

Bridges in the USA

There are over 617,000 bridges in the United States, 7.5% of which are considered structurally deficient. Over the past decade, a determined effort has been made involving all levels of government to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges across the country. Bridges are typically structurally sound for well over 100 years. However, whilst structurally deficient bridges are not inherently unsafe, they require substantial investment in the form of replacement or significant restoration to withstand the effects of natural disasters.

Working with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), structural and civil engineers at AtkinsRéalis provided construction engineering and inspection (CEI) services for the new Courtland Street Bridge, a major thoroughfare located in the local University campus. The project included demolition of the existing bridge, which was 110 years old, and the removal of 28 spans, replacing them with 12 newer, stronger columns. This project was delivered using Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods reducing the construction timeline from two years to 180 days, and ultimately reducing the amount of carbon emitted.

Mitigating climate change as an engineer

Although we have always experienced natural disasters on Earth, the frequency and severity have certainly increased. As a society, we therefore have an obligation to reduce our carbon emissions whilst also creating a built environment for future generations that is fit to stand the test of time. To prevent further climate change damage and catastrophes from natural disasters in years to come, innovative civil and structural engineers are required to plan, design, and build safe infrastructure.

Working as a bridge engineer in the infrastructure sector is an exciting prospect. You may have the opportunity to plan, coordinate and solve problems on a variety of considerably complex projects, involving several disciplines, clients, and/or regulatory agencies. You will collaborate in diverse teams alongside architects, project managers, and quantity surveyors to deliver safe and sustainable outcomes for a client, that can ultimately stand up to extreme weather conditions.

Meeting new demands in infrastructure

Over the last few years, the infrastructure sector has made significant improvements to combat carbon emissions, including incorporating technology like BIM, but there is still a way to go. Infrastructure projects including buildings and transportation are responsible for an overwhelming 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to this, we are facing population growth and we need to meet heightening demands. Therefore, the industry is relying upon astute, multidisciplinary engineers to introduce and implement a new wave of sustainable thinking using limited resources effectively and planning for resiliency in the changing climate.

Earlier this year, Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group, was awarded a $2 million, five-year contract in Florida to provide services including small bridge design and rehabilitation projects for fixed and movable bridges. On this project, we will employ the depth and breadth of our expertise to respond to the most technically challenging and time-critical phases, whilst making the urgent transition to a low-carbon economy.

Build a future that lasts at AtkinsRéalis

At AtkinsRéalis , we have been providing infrastructure planning, engineering, construction, and program management services to public and private clients across the United States for more than 50 years.

We are signatories to the United Nations Global Compact, meaning we are committed to achieving Net Zero Carbon by 2030. As part of this, we will be looking to help our clients upgrade and replace bridges that are susceptible to extreme weather events and more flooding.

We are therefore looking to expand our diverse teams of infrastructure professionals to help us deliver challenging projects. If you are looking for your next step, cross the bridge to AtkinsRéalis , and apply for a job in engineering today.