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Bridge aesthetics

Bridges dominate our freeway landscape and whether we realize it or not, they play a very important role in our visual environment. When was the last time you drove a road that had absolutely no bridges either carrying it or spanning it overhead?

With the growing public involvement in the process of planning and design of highway systems, the aesthetic appeal of finished projects is becoming increasingly important to people who living near and using new highways and bridges. Communities are asking the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) to be proactive in designing structures that enhance or blend in with their environment.

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Good design practices can go a long way toward minimizing or preventing negative visual impacts of some projects. The Iowa DOT’s bridge designers are aware that every choice made regarding a bridge’s details will have visual consequences  — good, bad or neutral. We expect our bridges to last 50 to 75 years or more, so it makes sense to try to make them visually attractive..

Making simple decisions early on can make bridges more attractive. It often costs little or nothing to make a bridge look substantially better than when its final appearance is ignored during the design process. A minor addition to the construction budget can take an everyday bridge and turn it into something unique and special.

Not all bridges will receive special design considerations, but many bridges are considered candidates for aesthetic enhancement. Bridges on new highway routes in or near communities will usually be designed with aesthetics in mind. Even a rural structure may get some aesthetic consideration, depending on numerous factors —  including how many motorists drive under or over the bridge each day.

In most cases, the replacement of a signature or historic bridge will result in some consideration of design enhancement of the new bridge. The Iowa DOT recognizes that historic bridges have intrinsic value to the communities in which they are situated. Aesthetics can also help to fulfill the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act when historic bridges simply cannot be saved.

For examples of the Iowa’s DOT’s aesthetic bridges, see the Index of Featured Bridges

For additional information related to aesthetic design in highway systems, please visit the following Web sites.

The Iowa DOT is committed to delivering the best highway projects to all Iowans. Be sure to look for new, better-looking bridges as you travel Iowa!

For additional information about the Iowa DOT’s aesthetic bridge design program, please contact:
kimball.olson@dot.iowa.gov, aesthetic bridge specialist.