Put simply, bridge engineers help vehicles and pedestrians cross rivers, valleys, roads and other obstacles. They are civil engineers who specializes in bridge design and construction. Some design new bridges, while others inspect and plan the rehabilitation of older ones. They work as project managers overseeing the actual bridge construction process. Typically, these engineers are employed by heavy construction and highway construction companies, design and consulting firms and government transportation agencies.
A bridge engineer may build a variety of bridges, including cable, truss, arch and suspension bridges, for example. He or she will prepare plans, specifications and cost estimates and, during planning and design, will consider what type of bridge will best meet the needs of the area and how the selected building site will support it. He or she will perform load rating and stress analysis calculations to ensure that the structure can stand up to the weight it will bear and the environmental stresses of the site. This engineer also must take into account local and regional building codes and requirements.
Those in project management roles are tasked with overseeing bridge construction and ensuring that projects stay on schedule and on budget. They are often on hand at building sites to manage and monitor building progress. They try to ensure that all facets of bridge development run smoothly, and they resolve any problems encountered during building. These engineers work with construction crews, subcontractors, suppliers and others to ensure that construction is completed safely and successfully.
A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required to become a bridge engineer, although many have more advanced degrees. Civil engineering or structural engineering are the most common fields of study. Professional licensing or certification might also be required, and in the United States, state certification as a professional engineer usually is required. Engineers who conduct bridge inspections usually have additional inspection training or certification.
Strong math, science and spatial skills are important for this job, and good communication skills are helpful in working with clients, construction crews and others. Travel can often be a part of the job for bridge engineers who often must go to where the bridge is being built. Engineers must sometimes spend significant amounts of time away from home or commuting long distances. Computer and software experience also is important, since these individuals often use bridge design software in their work.