Last Thursday, in honor of Steel Day, the Federal Highway Administration invited teams of students from Virginia Tech and Howard University to compete in a steel bridge building demonstration. Suddenly, the atrium of our DOT headquarters was transformed into a metal shop, with cardboard protecting the flooring and sections of what looked like adult-sized Tinker Toys spread out across the room.
The National Student Steel Bridge Competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), has been held annually since 1987. From humble beginnings, the competition has grown to 200 teams competing in preliminary contests, and 48 qualifying for last May's National Championships.
Watch Lakehead University's title-winning effort
FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez, President Elect Andrew Hermann from ASCE, Brian Raff from the National Steel Bridge Alliance (NSBA), a department of AISC, and Lawrence Cavanaugh, President of the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) spoke about the role of innovative technologies in bridge building.
They also had plenty of praise and encouragement for the talented young visitors. As Administrator Mendez said, “We certainly need all the bright, creative minds we can get to help build our 21st century transportation system, especially people who excel in science and math.”
The Virginia Tech team moved more quickly because they had a little trick up their sleeve. The team had engineered special “dovetail” joints that fit into each other without the need for bolts. Brett Keyes and Preston Pionk had the routine down to a science, moving seamlessly up and down their intricate structure.
This approach delighted DOT onlookers because it emulates the Federal Highway Administration's Prefabricated Bridge Elements and Systems program.
In the end, this event was a great showing of the future of American engineering and ingenuity. As Brian Raff said, “The students with us today could be our transportation and infrastructure decision-makers of tomorrow.”
Many of the visiting students were upperclassmen at their respective universities, and with the state of infrastructure at the moment, these young minds could not be graduating at a better time. If Congress passes the American Jobs Act, we'll be able to put them to work as soon as they graduate engineering the repair, replacement, and modernization of the tens of thousands of bridges that need our immediate attention.
On Thursday they showed their engineering talents and their ability to innovate; I look forward to seeing their skills applied in the real world as they help us build the future.