Bridge infrastructure in the UK has been developed over centuries. Performance has varied – many canal structures built 300 years ago for horse and cart perform well under modern loading, whereas concrete structures built in the 1960s have been closed due to safety concerns stemming from degradation of materials.

In the great road building age of the 1960’s and 70’s designs were pushed to the limits of engineering without sufficient understanding of the processes of deterioration that could affect the service life. 21st century innovations in materials and technology must address this legacy as bridge managers deal with increasing risk with limited budgets.

The world is changing, and structures must be designed to perform under increasing demand. Climate change brings flood and scour risk. The digital age brings autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things. Consumer demand increases freight and vehicle loading.

Landmark new bridges are celebrated as connections open up and journeys are made easier. Bridges of the future will need to be efficient structures, adaptable to change of use and resilient to environmental factors.

Key Facts

  • Since 1949 motor vehicle traffic has increased more than ten-fold from 28.9 to 327.1 billion vehicle miles, largely driven by steady growth in car traffic
  • Traffic of lorries with four or more axles was 44% higher in 2017 than in 1997
  • Flood damage in Europe is predicted to increase four-fold by 2050, due to socio-economic development alongside climate change
  • Analysis by Network Rail shows that structures currently experience a potentially high consequence failure every 5.2 weeks. A structure’s failure impacts on customers every 1.2 weeks through the implementation of a temporary speed restriction

Priority Areas for Development

  • Climate change research and impact analysis
  • Understanding bridge behaviour and deterioration through data analytics and sensor technology
  • Improved standards for design and assessment
  • Off-site manufacture
  • New materials – self-healing, high strength, low maintenance
  • Adaptable bridges that facilitate change of use
  • Cradle to grave bridge management
  • Guidance on new techniques and technologies
  • Use of BIM in management of structures