Consider the following excerpt from an RFP:

A company is “developing a new oil field in the Arctic tundra and needs a bridge to carry equipment over a river and adjacent floodway. The short construction season dictates rapid erection, which is facilitated by prefabricated decking. …A deck bridge is specified to accommodate very wide and tall loads. The bridge must provide clearance for floods. In addition, pipelines will cross the river directly under the bridge and various utilities will be installed under the decking…[the company] has specified steel because of its fast erection and exceptional sustainability rating, based on durability and high level of recycled content... Due to the force of moving ice, permanent piers will not be placed in the river or floodway….Footings are restricted to locations of existing thaw-stable gravel deposits on both banks. To minimize impact on the tundra, construction equipment and materials are permitted on only one bank and on barges in the river. Tundra conditions limit the weight of loads that may be moved. The floodway is too shallow for barges and too soft for terrestrial construction machinery.” 

This scenario is challenging for the most seasoned professionals—yet it is the basis for the 2010 Student Steel Bridge competition, which includes rules that are even more rigorous.

Bentley is proud to once again be a National sponsor of this competition, offering both financial support and also providing free software and tutorials last Fall to all participating ASCE Student Chapters while they developed their 2010 designs.

I was pleased to attend the 2010 ASCE/AISC National Student Steel Bridge Competition (NSSBC), hosted by Purdue University on May 28th-29th, to witness firsthand this test of students' skills in steel design, fabrication, scheduling, and management. For many students, it is their first practical, hands-on experience working as part of a design team.

198 teams took part in the qualifying competitions, at eighteen ASCE Student Conferences, with top ranked teams in each region then invited to compete at the national level.

46 teams participated in NSSBC this year, filling the Engineering Mall at Purdue University on Friday May 28th.


 The first day was devoted to set up and display judging of the scale model bridges.

Students circulated among the displays, assessing their competitors’ bridges (down to careful examination of minute details) while maintaining an air of camaraderie, and patiently answering questions by jurors, sponsors, spectators and fellow competitors alike.  



The teams then disassembled their bridges, in preparation for the next day.

On Saturday, May 29th the competition became far more active, with construction and load testing at Purdue’s Armory.

At the build stations, 3-5 team members carefully laid out each individual component of their bridges—from tools, to members, to nuts and bolts—and then waited for the judges to start the stopwatch.

In turn, members of each team sprinted back and forth from the components to their fellow team members in the construction area, racing to build their bridge in record time. The frantic race inevitably made me think of the Indianapolis 500, taking place down the road from Purdue the following day.

View the video

Last year, the best construction speed time was logged by SUNY Canton, at 3.5 minutes. This year, North Dakota State University bested that time, constructing their bridge in only 3.12 minutes!

After the judges evaluated the construction and recorded the official time (adding any penalties), each team moved their bridge to the Load Testing stations.


First, each bridge is subjected to a lateral load test, in which the sway may not exceed one inch in either direction. If the bridge passes, then it proceeds to the vertical load test: two decking units are placed, and then loaded with 100 lbs each, to measure deflection. Next, 1150 additional pounds of weight are added to the left deck, while checking for sway (no more than 1”) and deflection (no more than 2” downward). Finally, another 1150 pounds are added to the right deck, for a total test load of 2,500 pounds for these scale model bridges.



Each bridge is ultimately judged on the following steel design requirements: display, construction speed, lightness (lowest total weight), stiffness (lowest aggregate deflection), construction economy (lowest construction cost), and structural efficiency.

On behalf of Bentley, I would like to applaud all 46 teams. Their bridges prove that the next generation of structural engineers is indeed prepared to help design and sustain the world's infrastructure.

The 2010 National Student Steel Bridge Competition overall winners are as follows:

1.      North Dakota State University

2.     University of California, Berkeley

3.     Lakehead University


Congratulations to all of the participating teams, for jobs well done!

You can read more about this competition at