2011 National Student Steel Bridge Competition

As the National Student Steel Bridge Competition marked its 20th anniversary this year, Bentley was proud to continue as a National sponsor, offering free software and tutorials to participating teams as they worked on their 2011 designs beginning last fall. (See my sponsorship blog). The competition was more rigorous than ever and reached record levels of participants this year—with 201 teams competing in the regional ASCE Student Conferences and 48 teams qualifying for the National finals.



This year’s problem statement involved a new road in a state park, to access remote areas and including a bridge over a scenic river that carries utilities to both the welcome center and campground. The design/build proposals were to include a deck bridge (“to minimize visual impact”), with clearance for boating and passageways for utilities. Environmental impact considerations lead to additional requirements: only permitting permanent supports on natural levees on both riverbanks, and the requirement for one end of the bridge to be cantilevered to span wetlands.

For the third consecutive year, I happily attended the ASCE/AISC National Student Steel Bridge Competition (NSSBC)—this year hosted by Texas A&M University in College Station, TX on May 20th-21st, 2011. This competition must be witnessed firsthand, to truly appreciate what a challenge it poses to students’ skill in steel design, fabrication, scheduling, and management. Ask any team member, and they will undoubtedly say it is equal parts hard work, hands-on learning, and fun!

48 teams reported to Brazos County Expo Center on Friday, May 20th, for bridge set up and display judging. This first day is as much about scoping out the competition, and gathering ideas for next year, as it is about proudly displaying their own 1:10 scale model bridges.

Saturday, May 21st found the teams at a venue on TAMU’s campus, Reed Arena, for the construction and load testing portion of the competition. At the build stations, 3-5 team members carefully laid out each individual component of their bridges—down to each individual nut and bolt—and then waited for the judges to start the stopwatch.

One or two team members then raced the clock to bring components over to the rest of their fellows in the construction area, with a joint goal of building their bridge in record time. Students ran back and forth with each critical component of the bridge, one bit at a time and in sequence, while the builders grabed each piece and scrambled to build their bridge at breakneck speed.