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What does a Bridge Engineer do?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Put simply, bridge engineers help vehicles and pedestrians cross rivers, valleys, roads and other obstacles. They are civil engineers who specializes in bridge design and construction. Some design new bridges, while others inspect and plan the rehabilitation of older ones. They work as project managers overseeing the actual bridge construction process. Typically, these engineers are employed by heavy construction and highway construction companies, design and consulting firms and government transportation agencies.

A bridge engineer may build a variety of bridges, including cable, truss, arch and suspension bridges, for example. He or she will prepare plans, specifications and cost estimates and, during planning and design, will consider what type of bridge will best meet the needs of the area and how the selected building site will support it. He or she will perform load rating and stress analysis calculations to ensure that the structure can stand up to the weight it will bear and the environmental stresses of the site. This engineer also must take into account local and regional building codes and requirements.

Those in project management roles are tasked with overseeing bridge construction and ensuring that projects stay on schedule and on budget. They are often on hand at building sites to manage and monitor building progress. They try to ensure that all facets of bridge development run smoothly, and they resolve any problems encountered during building. These engineers work with construction crews, subcontractors, suppliers and others to ensure that construction is completed safely and successfully.

A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required to become a bridge engineer, although many have more advanced degrees. Civil engineering or structural engineering are the most common fields of study. Professional licensing or certification might also be required, and in the United States, state certification as a professional engineer usually is required. Engineers who conduct bridge inspections usually have additional inspection training or certification.

Strong math, science and spatial skills are important for this job, and good communication skills are helpful in working with clients, construction crews and others. Travel can often be a part of the job for bridge engineers who often must go to where the bridge is being built. Engineers must sometimes spend significant amounts of time away from home or commuting long distances. Computer and software experience also is important, since these individuals often use bridge design software in their work.

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Discussion Comments
By Mae82 — On Aug 31, 2011

@drtroubles - I have actually heard about the tradition of the iron ring. I had always thought that there was a little picture of a bridge on the ring, I guess that was just my imagination getting away with me.

My friend is currently studying to be a civil engineer and is really interested in working on bridges. He feels that their is nothing more recognizable in a city than their landmark bridges. He really wants to be a part of it. I guess I can see what he means when I think about thinks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

By drtroubles — On Aug 31, 2011

One of the most iconic symbols of civil engineering is the bridge. It really represents how much importance their jobs holds, and how dangerous it is for them to make a mistake.

In Canada it is a tradition for graduating engineers to go through a ritual called the The Calling of an Engineer. This requires an engineer to take an oath and they are given an iron ring to wear on the small finger of their working hand.

Back in the early 20th century there was a bridge collapse in Quebec, that was found to be the fault of an engineer. The iron ring that all engineering graduates wear now is a symbol of that tragedy and the importance of doing their job well.

By Izzy78 — On Aug 30, 2011

@kentuckycat - I have a lot of respect for engineers because of the amount of time and effort they have to put into their profession. Because of many of the things that you described it makes engineering a very difficult profession to be a part of.

I can imagine that it is very easy to become "burnt out" on all the calculating as well as the tedious nature of the design process. However, because people will be traveling on the bridges or staying in the buildings designed by engineers, there is no room for the engineer to take anything for granted or become "burnt out" in the design process. The profession just does not allow for this to happen.

By kentuckycat — On Aug 30, 2011

@jmc88 - You are correct in your assumption. Although in most professional jobs there is little tolerance for mistakes, engineering is a profession where absolutely no small mistakes can be tolerated.

Thousands and in some cases millions of people will travel on the bridges designed by engineers in the decades after they are built. That is why safety is the number one concern and why they have to be very anal with their job.

Another thing that people take for granted is the building codes and local ordinances. These can sometimes be a real pain for engineers and they have to ensure that they are able to make a perfectly safe structure, while still adhering to these local laws. This can sometimes force the engineer to completely re-think his/her design and start the process all over again.

By jmc88 — On Aug 29, 2011

I once toyed with the idea of becoming a civil engineer because I was interested in building bridges. However, once I got into studying civil engineering I realized that it was not for me.

Engineering is a very hard job and there is an incredible amount of pressure on the engineer to be absolutely exact in his or her calculations and design. As everyone knows, it is very easy to make a simple mistake when doing complex math, and that is something that even those with degrees beyond a bachelors can have a problem with. However, because of the importance of safety with these structures mistakes cannot be tolerated and this makes engineering a very tedious job.

By JimmyT — On Aug 29, 2011

Bridge engineers are probably the most important people in the bridge building process. As the article stated the bridge engineers have to adhere to the lay of the land, as well as the local ordinances (which can be a real pain sometimes) and they also, most importantly, have to ensure the bridge is safely built.

To ensure a bridge is safely built the bridge engineer has to make sure his calculations on the bridge are exact and that all his math as well as his design will be able to withstand the stress put on the bridge for decades.

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