Bridges. 1. Definitions and General Considerations. - Bridges (old forms, brig, brygge, brudge; Dutch, brug; German, Brücke; a common Teutonic word) are structures carrying roadways, waterways or railways across streams, valleys or other roads or railways, leaving a passage way below. Long bridges of several spans are often termed "viaducts," and bridges carrying canals are termed "aqueducts," though this term is sometimes used for waterways which have no bridge structure. A "culvert" is a bridge of small span giving passage to drainage. In railway work an "overbridge" is a bridge over the railway, and an "underbridge" is a bridge carrying the railway. In all countries there are legal regulations fixing the minimum span and height of such bridges and the width of roadway to be provided. Ordinarily bridges are fixed bridges, but there are also movable bridges with machinery for opening a clear and unobstructed passage way for navigation. Most commonly these are "swing" or "turning" bridges. "Floating" bridges are roadways carried on pontoons moored in a stream.

In classical and medieval times bridges were constructed of timber or masonry, and later of brick or concrete. Then late in the 18th century wrought iron began to be used, at first in combination with timber or cast iron. Cast iron was about the same time used for arches, and some of the early railway bridges were built with cast iron girders. Cast iron is now only used for arched bridges of moderate span. Wrought iron was used on a large scale in the suspension road bridges of the early part of the 19th century. The great girder bridges over the Menai Strait and at Saltash near Plymouth, erected in the middle of the 19th century, were entirely of wrought iron, and subsequently wrought iron girder bridges were extensively used on railways. Since the introduction of mild steel of greater tenacity and toughness than wrought iron (i.e. from 1880 onwards) it has wholly superseded the latter except for girders of less than 100 ft. span. The latest change in the material of bridges has been the introduction of ferro-concrete, armoured concrete, or concrete strengthened with steel bars for arched bridges. The present article relates chiefly to metallic bridges.

It is only since metal has been used that the great spans of 500 to 1800 ft. now accomplished have been made possible.

2. In a bridge there may be distinguished the superstructure and the substructure. In the former the main supporting member or members may be an arch ring or arched ribs, suspension chains or ropes, or a pair of girders, beams or trusses. The bridge flooring rests on the supporting members, and is of very various types according to the purpose of the bridge. There is also in large bridges wind-bracing to stiffen the structure against horizontal forces. The substructure consists of (a) the piers and end piers or abutments, the former sustaining a vertical load, and the latter having to resist, in addition, the oblique thrust of an arch, the pull of a suspension chain, or the thrust of an embankment; and (b) the foundations below the ground level, which are often difficult and costly parts of the structure, because the position of a bridge may be fixed by considerations which preclude the selection of a site naturally adapted for carrying a heavy structure.

3. Types of Bridges. - Bridges may be classed as arched bridges, in which the principal members are in compression; suspension bridges, in which the principal members are in tension; and girder bridges, in which half the components of the principal members are in compression and half in tension. But there are cases of bridges of mixed type. The choice of the type to be adopted depends on many and complex considerations: - (1) The cost, having regard to the materials available. For moderate spans brick, masonry or concrete can be used without excessive cost, but for longer spans steel is more economical, and for very long spans its use is imperative. (2) The importance of securing permanence and small cost of maintenance and repairs has to be considered. Masonry and concrete are more durable than metal, and metal than timber. (3) Aesthetic considerations sometimes have great weight, especially in towns. Masonry bridges are preferable in appearance to any others, and metal arch bridges are less objectionable than most forms of girder.

Most commonly the engineer has to attach great importance to the question of cost, and to design his structure to secure the greatest economy consistent with the provision of adequate strength. So long as bridge building was an empirical art, great waste of material was unavoidable. The development of the theory of structures has been largely directed to determining the arrangements of material which are most economical, especially in the superstructure. In the case of bridges of large span the cost and difficulty of erection are serious, and in such cases facility of erection becomes a governing consideration in the choice of the type to be adopted. In many cases the span is fixed by local conditions, such as the convenient sites for piers, or the requirements of waterway or navigation. But here also the question of economy must be taken into the reckoning. The cost of the superstructure increases very much as the span increases, but the greater the cost of the substructure, the larger the span which is economical.

Broadly, the least costly arrangement is that in which the cost of the superstructure of a span is equal to that of a pier and foundation.

For masonry, brick or concrete the arch subjected throughout to compression is the most natural form. The arch ring can be treated as a blockwork structure composed of rigid voussoirs. The stability of such structures depends on the position of the line of pressure in relation to the extrados and intrados of the arch ring. Generally the line of pressure lies within the middle half of the depth of the arch ring. In finding the line of pressure some principle such as the principle of least action must be used in determining the reactions at the crown and springings, and some assumptions must be made of not certain validity. Hence to give a margin of safety to cover contingencies not calculable, an excess of material must be provided. By the introduction of hinges the position of the line of resistance can be fixed and the stress in the arch ring determined with less uncertainty. In some recent masonry arched bridges of spans up to 150 ft. built with hinges considerable economy has been obtained.

For an elastic arch of metal there is a more complete theory, but it is difficult of application, and there remains some uncertainty unless (as is now commonly done) hinges are introduced at the crown and springings.

In suspension bridges the principal members are in tension, and the introduction of iron link chains about the end of the 18th century, and later of wire ropes of still greater tenacity, permitted the construction of road bridges of this type with spans at that time impossible with any other system of construction. The suspension bridge dispenses with the compression member required in girders and with a good deal of the stiffening required in metal arches. On the other hand, suspension bridges require lofty towers and massive anchorages. The defect of the suspension bridge is its flexibility. It can be stiffened by girders and bracing and is then of mixed type, when it loses much of its advantage in economy. Nevertheless, the stiffened suspension bridge will probably be the type adopted in future for very great spans. A bridge on this system has been projected at New York of 3200 ft. span.

The immense extension of railways since 1830 has involved the construction of an enormous number of bridges, and most of these are girder bridges, in which about half the superstructure is in tension and half in compression. The use of wrought iron and later of mild steel has made the construction of such bridges very convenient and economical. So far as superstructure is concerned, more material must be used than for an arch or chain, for the girder is in a sense a combination of arch and chain. On the other hand, a girder imposes only a vertical load on its piers and abutments, and not a horizontal thrust, as in the case of an arch or suspension chain. It is also easier to erect.

A fundamental difference in girder bridges arises from the mode of support. In the simplest case the main girders are supported at the ends only, and if there are several spans they are discontinuous or independent. But a main girder may be supported at two or more points so as to be continuous over two or more spans. The continuity permits economy of weight. In a three-span bridge the theoretical advantage of continuity is about 49% for a dead load and 16% for a live load. The objection to continuity is that very small alterations of level of the supports due to settlement of the piers may very greatly alter the distribution of stress, and render the bridge unsafe. Hence many multiple-span bridges such as the Hawkesbury, Benares and Chittravatti bridges have been built with independent spans.

Lastly, some bridges are composed of cantilevers and suspended girders. The main girder is then virtually a continuous girder hinged at the points of contrary flexure, so that no ambiguity can arise as to the stresses.

Fig. 1.  Trajan's Bridge. Fig. 1. - Trajan's Bridge.

Whatever type of bridge is adopted, the engineer has to ascertain the loads to be carried, and to proportion the parts so that the stresses due to the loads do not exceed limits found by experience to be safe. In many countries the limits of working stress in public and railway bridges are prescribed by law. The development of theory has advanced pari passu with the demand for bridges of greater strength and span and of more complex design, and there is now little uncertainty in calculating the stresses in any of the types of structure now adopted. In the modern metal bridge every member has a definite function and is subjected to a calculated straining action. Theory has been the guide in the development of bridge design, and its trustworthiness is completely recognized. The margin of uncertainty which must be met by empirical allowances on the side of safety has been steadily diminished.

The larger the bridge, the more important is economy of material, not only because the total expenditure is more serious, but because as the span increases the dead weight of the structure becomes a greater fraction of the whole load to be supported. In fact, as the span increases a point is reached at which the dead weight of the superstructure becomes so large that a limit is imposed to any further increase of span.

Fig. 2.  Bridge of Alcantara. Fig. 2. - Bridge of Alcantara.