Why Do Bridges Cost So Much? – Part 1
bridges cost

Transportation funding has been in the news with discussions on the need to repair, maintain, and improve our extensive network of roads and bridges, not to mention mass transit facilities. As in most discussions of finances, we tend to boil it down to whether we need more money or if we can cut costs to be more cost effective in what we are already doing.

A discussion of transportation funding options and sources, or lack therof, could easily fill this space and more, but my thoughts today are more on the cost side of the equation. This discussion was brought into focus for me recently when I was forwarded a voicemail from a local resident. The caller was a neighbor to the Cocalico No. 3 bridge, a local bridge the County of Lancaster had decided to replace and had selected LDG to provide design services. Apparently, an article in the Lancaster newspaper, which described the selection as well as our design fee, had caught his attention as well as a number of his neighbors. The question from the caller was whether there had been a misprint in the newspaper on the contract amount for our services. (I was tempted to ask if he thought our fee was too low for the value of services we were providing, but I resisted.) My first impulse was to ignore the voicemail since I had no contractual reason to respond but then reconsidered since I have a professional responsibility to the users of the facilities that we design.

I called the gentleman back and had a very pleasant dialogue, explaining the many steps in the design process, starting with the field survey which includes obtaining cross-sections in the stream. Then we do an analysis of the stream and water flows so that we can properly size the bridge opening to minimize flooding and associated risks. We will also do a geotechnical investigation with test borings to locate the bedrock elevation that is needed to safely support the tremendous weight of the bridge and trucks that will be driving across the bridge. We will also take great care in designing the beams and walls to ensure they are not only strong enough to support the trucks that will use the bridge but will also be durable since we want the bridge to last 100 years or more. Finally, we have numerous regulations and requirements we need to meet for permits and approvals which are beyond our control but need to be addressed in order to proceed with the construction.

As we concluded our conversation, the caller seemed to have an appreciation of the many steps that are needed to ensure the safety of the many users of the bridge. He also said he would go back and talk to his neighbors and explain to them all the steps we need to take to ensure the bridge is designed appropriately and that our fee is actually quite reasonable. The few minutes we spent talking on the phone turned out to be a valuable use of my limited time that morning.

In future posts, I hope to look at construction costs and opportunities for innovation, and showcase some of the interesting projects we are undertaking here at LDG to improve the infrastructure in the communities in which we live. Your questions and comments will be appreciated as we dialogue together

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