Formerly when bridge piers had to be placed where a firm bearing stratum could only be reached at a considerable depth, a timber cofferdam was used in which piles were driven down to the firm stratum. On the piles the masonry piers were built. Many bridges so constructed have stood for centuries. A great change of method arose when iron cylinders and in some cases brick cylinders or wells were adopted for foundations. These can be sunk to almost any depth or brought up to any height, and are filled with Portland cement concrete. They are sometimes excavated by grabs. Sometimes they are closed in and kept free of water by compressed air so that excavation work can be carried on inside them (fig. 35). Sometimes in silty river beds they are sunk 100 ft. or more, for security against deep scouring of the river-bed in floods. In the case of the Empress bridge over the Sutlej each pier consisted of three brick wells, 19 ft. in diameter, sunk 110 ft. The piers of the Benares bridge were single iron caissons, 65 ft. by 28 ft., sunk about 100 ft., lined with brick and filled with concrete.

At the Forth bridge iron caissons 70 ft. in diameter were sunk about 40 ft. into the bed of the Forth. In this case the compressed air process was used.

16. Erection. - Consideration of the local conditions affecting the erection of bridges is always important, and sometimes becomes a controlling factor in the determination of the design. The methods of erection may be classed as - (1) erection on staging or falsework; (2) floating to the site and raising; (3) rolling out from one abutment; (4) building out member by member, the completed part forming the stage from which additions are handled.

(1) In erection on staging, the materials available determine the character of the staging; stacks of timber, earth banks, or built-up staging of piles and trestles have all been employed, also iron staging, which can be rapidly erected and moved from site to site. The most ordinary type of staging consists of timber piles at nearly equal distances of 20 ft. to 30 ft., carrying a timber platform, on which the bridge is erected. Sometimes a wide space is left for navigation, and the platform at this part is carried by a timber and iron truss. When the headway is great or the river deep, timber-braced piers or clusters of piles at distances of 50 ft. to 100 ft. may be used. These carry temporary trusses of timber or steel. The Kuilenburg bridge in Holland, which has a span of 492 ft., was erected on a timber staging of this kind, containing 81,000 cub. ft. of timber and 5 tons of bolts. The bridge superstructure weighed 2150 tons, so that 38 cub. ft. of timber were used per ton of superstructure.

(2) The Britannia and Conway bridges were built on staging on shore, lifted by pontoons, floated out to their position between the piers, and lastly lifted into place by hydraulic presses. The Moerdyk bridge in Holland, with 14 spans of 328 ft., was erected in a similar way. The convenience of erecting girders on shore is very great, but there is some risk in the floating operations and a good deal of hauling plant is required.

(3) If a bridge consists of girders continuous over two or more spans, it may be put together on the embankment at one end and rolled over the piers. In some cases hauling tackle is used, in others power is applied by levers and ratchets to the rollers on which the girders travel. In such rolling operations the girder is subjected to straining actions different from those which it is intended to resist, and parts intended for tension may be in compression; hence it may need to be stiffened by timber during rolling. The bending action on the bottom boom in passing over the rollers is also severe. Modifications of the system have been adopted for bridges with discontinuous spans. In narrow ravines a bridge of one span may be rolled out, if the projecting end is supported on a temporary suspension cable anchored on each side. The free end is slung to a block running on the cable. If the bridge is erected when the river is nearly dry a travelling stage may be constructed to carry the projecting end of the girder while it is hauled across, the other end resting on one abutment.

Sometimes a girder is rolled out about one-third of its length, and then supported on a floating pontoon.

(4) Some types of bridge can be built out from the abutments, the completed part forming an erecting stage on which lifting appliances are fixed. Generally, in addition, wire cables are stretched across the span, from which lifting tackle is suspended. In bridges so erected the straining action during erection must be studied, and material must be added to resist erecting stresses. In the case of the St Louis bridge, half arches were built out on either side of each pier, so that the load balanced. Skeleton towers on the piers supported chains attached to the arched ribs at suitable points. In spite of careful provision, much difficulty was experienced in making the connexion at the crown, from the expansion due to temperature changes. The Douro bridge was similarly erected. The girders of the side spans were rolled out so as to overhang the great span by 105 ft., and formed a platform from which parts of the arch could be suspended. Dwarf towers, built on the arch ring at the fifth panel from either side, helped to support the girder above, in erecting the centre part of the arch (Seyrig, Proc. Inst. C.E. lxiii. p. 177). The great cantilever bridges have been erected in the same way, and they are specially adapted for erection by building out.