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Ernest Sternberg Publishes Primer on Bridge Engineering and Planning

Early work on the $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge replacement over the lower Hudson River in New York State, 60 years after the opening of the original bridge. Photo credit: New York State Thruway Authority, "The New NY Bridge"

Published February 27, 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, UB SUNY Distinguished Professor of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering, and Ernest Sternberg, professor and chair of urban and regional planning.

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 till ribbon cutting,” says Sternberg. “We explain the process and give some of the reasons.”

Designing a bridge to withstand threats from flooding and scour to 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 millenium. As the nation approaches a trillion-dollar investment to solve the infrastructure crisis, they propose that the U.S. mandate a new generation of far more durable infrastructure.

Published by State University of New York Press, the book will be released on March 1, 2015.