Using pre-cast abutments to build bridges faster

Published 20 October 2008

Wisconsin contractor using pre-cast, segmental abutments for the first time to build a bridge in Wisconsin; technique may allow building bridges 30 percent faster

The contractor who re-built the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed last year received a $25 million bonus for completing the work three months ahead of schedule. Future bridge builders interested in repeating this feat, and enjoying the rewards, may want to look at an experiment now taking place in Wisconsin. New pre-cast, segmental bridge abutments being put together on State Highway 63 near the western Wisconsin village of Baldwin may be the first step in giving highway builders a way to build bridges up to 30 percent faster than the normal form-and-pour method they commonly use now. Mike Larson writes that the abutments, each consisting of seven pre-cast panels mounted on pilings, are the first pre-cast, segmental abutments ever used in a Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) highway project. If the concept works as planned, it could eventually be approved for general use in WisDOT projects.

Larson says that this first co-operative application of the technique is being spearheaded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s engineering department and WisDOT. Alfred Benesch & Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, designed the bridge, including the pre-cast abutments, as a subcontractor to the university. Edward Kraemer & Sons of Plain, Wisconsin is the prime contractor for the bridge project.

Michael Oliva, professor of engineering at the UW-Madison, says the major benefit of using segmental, pre-cast bridge abutments is quicker assembly and controlled quality. “Pre-cast bridge abutments could well provide Wisconsin’s bridge designers and builders with another effective method for meeting the state’s highway needs. We need to monitor how this bridge performs over time to know for certain, but the abutment construction seems to be going as well as expected.”

Oliva says that using pre-cast bridge abutments would offer an especially large advantage for contractors when building abutments that sit in water.