Iowa State Bridge Engineering Center part of new U.S. DOT transportation center

Watch as crews slide a new highway bridge into place near western Iowa's Massena. It's one way engineers are accelerating bridge construction projects. Video courtesy of the Iowa Department of Transportation.


AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University engineers know bridge construction projects can create driving headaches.

You can’t just move traffic to the shoulder. You have to detour traffic for miles and, sometimes, for months.

Brent Phares

Brent Phares

“That creates additional societal costs,” said Brent Phares, the director of Iowa State’s Bridge Engineering Center and an adjunct assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “We just worked with the Iowa Department of Transportation on a bridge project that had a 17-mile detour. Think of all the extra driving time, gas and pollution. They all have costs associated with them. And it doesn’t take long for those societal costs to add up.”

That has engineers developing new and quicker ways to build bridges. They call it accelerated bridge construction.

And now Iowa State engineers will be part of a research center dedicated to the field. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded a two-year, $2,828,200 grant to establish an Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center based at Florida International University in Miami. Iowa State and the University of Nevada-Reno are partners in the center.

Phares said the grant will send approximately $800,000 to Iowa State over the next two years. Researchers need to find another $400,000 in matching grants. That makes a total of $1.2 million of bridge research over the next two years.

That’s in addition to the recently announced two-year, $5,185,000 grant from the U.S. DOT for a Midwest Transportation Center based at Iowa State. That center will focus its research on data-driven performance measures of transportation infrastructure, traffic safety and project construction.

Iowa State engineers have been studying accelerated bridge construction for years and have helped the state develop a policy governing when the techniques should be used. Those efforts are now making a difference for Iowa drivers.

The Iowa DOT, for example, just replaced a 1930 bridge on State Highway 92 just outside Massena in western Iowa’s Cass County. Phares said the project only closed the highway for nine days. Using standard demolition and construction techniques, he said the project could have closed the highway for six to eight months.

How can engineers do that?

Phares said the new bridge was constructed next to the old bridge. When it was ready for traffic, the old bridge was demolished and crews slid the new bridge into place. 

The new federal grant will help Iowa State engineers continue to find ways to accelerate bridge construction and reduce costs – and headaches – for drivers.

“Iowa State will benefit greatly from this grant,” Phares said. “And this will benefit the Iowa DOT and the residents of Iowa as well.”