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Steel bridge team preparing for regional competition

Saturday, April 14, 2018

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas students will test their bridge-building skills against competitors from other Midwestern universities later this month.

The team, composed of more than a dozen students from the School of Engineering, will participate in the regional competition April 19-21 at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. The goal is to outpace competitors in the amount of time it takes to construct the bridge, the amount of weight the bridge can hold and having the lowest overall total bridge weight. It’s a tricky task.

"It's pretty challenging,” said Briceson Junge, a junior in civil engineering from Lawrence who serves as the team leader in fabricating parts for the competition.

The competition, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, challenges teams to construct a limited-access, short-span bridge — similar to Portland’s Bridge of the People — that accommodates mass transit, bicycles, pedestrians and emergency vehicles while prohibiting private motor vehicles.

The bridges are designed as 1/10th scale models. The models are actually constructed at the competition under simulated field conditions and are tested for stability, strength and serviceability. Construction cost and duration, and well as the look of the bridge, are important considerations for judges.

At the end of the competition, each team will be judged and given a “dollar score” based on the bridge’s structural efficiency and construction economy: The quicker the bridge can be successfully constructed, the better. The team with the lowest score wins — duplicating real-life civil engineering projects where the low bid wins. Students on KU’s team have been working on the design since fall.

“It's a lot of work that goes into it,” said Junge. “Designing the project from scratch and having to build it is harder than it seems. There's a lot of difficulties to overcome.”

However, Junge added, the competition also provides good engineering experience to the students involved.

"We get technical experience with machine work, and overall I've gained a lot of experience in project management,” he said. "I'd say the fun part is, you get close with the people you work with."

The winner of the regional event moves on to the National Steel Bridge Competition, held May 25-26 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.