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A New Era of Bridge Construction Technology Lands in the U.S.

A New Era of Bridge Construction Technology Lands in the U.S.

Eau Claire, WI:  In the world of bridge construction, the differences between cast-in-place and precast methods have always presented one primary trade-off: durability versus speed. Cast-in-place offers proven durability but often entails time-intensive labor, while precast solutions, despite being rapidly deployable, grapple with transportation challenges and maintenance concerns.

However, in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, a proven technology has arrived, marking the first ever union between these two approaches within the United States. This launch project, initiated in August 2023, introduced a new methodology to the U.S. by constructing a modular bridge system, that is pre-engineered, with an internal self-supporting superstructure that includes the reinforcing steel and formwork. It arrives on-site without the heavy concrete so that its cast-in-place. This superstructure, compliant with AASHTO standards, significantly reduced the necessity for bespoke reinforced concrete design, allowing for the rapid deployment of infrastructure that was virtually “off the shelf.”

Upon the prefabricated bridge system’s arrival, the county maintenance crew lifted them into place with an excavator and spliced them together, prepping the site for locally supplied, ready-mix concrete. Once complete, the structure is a fully integral bridge with no joints, bearings or tie-downs. With these lightweight modular components being self-supporting, they eliminate the usual need for external bracing during assembly. Instead, the panel’s girder reinforcement incorporates a truss, which is an innovative design that supports the formwork throughout construction.

The Eau Claire County maintenance crew used their own excavator to install the abutments in less than an hour. Since the prefabricated abutments are delivered complete with formwork and reinforcing steel, they were installed on the foundation and ready to be filled with concrete on day one. Additionally, there was no need for dewatering, which is usually typical with box-culvert construction. 

The InQuik Bridge System streamlined the construction process, enabling a simplified, de-risked installation methodology. The use of offsite fabrication not only reduced the demand for skilled labor but also facilitated safer handling due to the lightweight bridge components. The result was an accelerated four-week construction period, compared to the traditional three-to-four-month timeline that we normally see for fully formed and cast on-site bridges.

According to Jon Johnson, Eau Claire County’s Highway Commissioner, InQuik reduced bridge construction costs significantly. Furthermore, the system’s innovative design ensured that the reinforcing carried the weight of the wet concrete, eliminating the need to work below the span during construction. Offsite fabrication also enabled tighter limits of disturbance, particularly beneficial in waterway environments, minimizing the negative environmental impact often seen with culverts or other construction methods. 

Travis Pickering, the Eau Claire County Engineer, said that once he had learned about InQuik, he “saw how innovative it was, and that it could be a real game changer… you can install faster and save some money, especially [considering] budgets that keep getting tighter, and rising costs.”

Additionally, Pickering noted that it “goes in faster, [which is] something that’s going to have a positive impact on the community as well. Not having the road closed for as long, or [having] something that maybe is even structurally better than the way a bridge is traditionally built.” 

The InQuik method is now being adopted by other eager counties within Wisconsin and across the United States. Eau Claire’s installation of the innovative system showcases a transformative leap in bridge technology, offering cost-effective solutions, technical advancement, and environmentally conscious practices.