Orthotropic deck

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Fabricating an orthotropic deck section

An orthotropic bridge or orthotropic deck is one whose deck typically comprises a structural steel deck plate stiffened either longitudinally or transversely, or in both directions. This allows the deck both to directly bear vehicular loads and to contribute to the bridge structure's overall load-bearing behaviour. The orthotropic deck may be integral with or supported on a grid of deck framing members such as floor beams and girders.

Decks with different stiffnesses in longitudinal and transverse directions are called 'orthotropic'. If the stiffnesses are similar in the two directions, then the deck is called 'isotropic'.[1]

The steel deck-plate-and-ribs system may be idealized for analytical purposes as an orthogonal-anisotropic plate, hence the abbreviated designation “orthotropic.”


The stiffening elements can serve several functions simultaneously. They enhance the bending resistance of the plate to allow it to carry local wheel loads and distribute those loads to main girders. They also increase the total cross-sectional area of steel in the plate, which can increase its contribution to the overall bending capacity of the deck (i.e. the deck plate acts as a top flange in a box or I beam girder). Finally, the stiffeners increase the resistance of the plate to buckling.

The same structural effects are also true of the concrete slab in a composite girder bridge, but the steel orthotropic deck is considerably lighter, and therefore allows longer span bridges to be more efficiently designed.

Resistance to use of an orthotropic deck relates mainly to its cost of fabrication, due to the amount of welding involved. In addition, it must be prefabricated rather than assembled on site, which offers less flexibility than in-situ concrete decks. Orthotropic decks have been prone to fatigue problems and to delamination of the wearing surface, which, like the deck, is also often of a very thin material to reduce weight.


A German Engineer Dr. Cornelis of MAN Corporation was issued German patent No. 847014 in 1948. MAN's design manual was published in 1957 in German. In 1963 AISC published their manual based on North American design practices.

Orthotropic deck bridges[edit]

Thousands of orthotropic deck bridges are in existence throughout the world. Despite the savings and advantages (up to 25% of total bridge mass can be saved by reducing deck weight, as the weight reductions extend to cables, towers, piers, anchorages, and so forth), the US has only about 60 such bridge decks in use as of late 2005. About 25% of orthotropic in the US are in California, including the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, which is one of the first major bridges in the US to be built using an orthotropic deck.

In 1985 the Golden Gate Bridge was refitted with an orthotropic deck

Some very large cable-supported bridges, plus current record span (cable-stayed bridges and suspension bridges) would not be feasible without steel orthotropic decks. The longest or record span box girder, slant-leg bridges; arch bridges; movable bridges and two Norwegian floating bridges all use orthotropic decks.

The Millau Viaduct a cable-stayed bridge of Millau, France has the largest orthotropic steel deck area of any single bridge. The lower total gross weight of the superstructure allowed bridge launching from both ends of the Millau Viaduct.

The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge's orthotropic deck allowed the Japanese to build the longest span at about 6,000 ft (1,800 m), or 50% longer than the Golden Gate Bridge.

Orthotropic decks permit a very shallow deck depth which reduces the steepness of approach gradients and hence their costs. The form is also widely used on bascule and other moveable bridges where significant savings in the cost of the mechanical elements can be made where a lighter deck is used. The El Ferdan Railway Bridge across the Suez Canal of Egypt is the record span bridge. The Erasmus Bridge has an orthotropic deck for both its cable-stayed bridge and bascule span. The Danziger Bridge of New Orleans is a very large vertical lift bridge.

It is possible to refit a bridge originally designed with a concrete or non-structural deck to use an orthotropic deck, which was first utilized in Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge. For example, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937, originally used a concrete deck. Salt carried by fog or mist reached the rebar, causing corrosion and concrete spalling. In 1985, the bridge was restored using orthotropic steel deck panels. The project not only restored the bridge to prime condition but also reduced the deck weight by 12,300 tons (11,160 metric tons).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hambly, E C (1976). Bridge Deck Behaviour. E & FN Spon. p. 54.
  • Troitsky, M. S. (1987). Orthotropic Bridges - Theory and Design (2nd ed.). Cleveland, OH: James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation. ASIN B001KSB33O.
  • Sedlacek, Gerhard (1992). "Ch. 2.10: Orthotropic Plate Bridge Decks". In Dowling, Patrick J.; Bjorhovde, Reidar; Harding, John E. (eds.). Constructional Steel Design: An International Guide. London: Elsevier Applied Science. ISBN 978-1-85166-895-3.
  • Chang, J. C. L. (December 1961). "Orthotropic-Plate Construction for Short-Span Bridges". Civil Engineering. ASCE.
  • Mangus, Alfred R.; Sun, Shawn (1999). "Ch. 14: Orthotropic Deck Bridges". In Chen, Wai-Fah; Duan, Lian (eds.). Bridge Engineering Handbook (1st ed.). Boca Raton Fl: CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-7434-0. External link in |publisher= (help)
  • Mangus, Alfred R. (May 2002). Merrill, Kelly S. (ed.). Orthotropic Deck Bridges Constructed in Cold Regions. 11th International Conference on Cold Regions Engineering (May 20–22, 2002; Anchorage, AK). Reston, VA: ASCE. doi:10.1061/40621(254)36. ISBN 978-0-7844-0621-2. Cold Regions Engineering: Cold Regions Impacts on Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Buckland, Peter, G. (1981). "The Lions Gate Bridge - renovation". Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. Ottawa, Canada. 8 (4): 484–508. doi:10.1139/l81-063.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

External links[edit]

Foreign language search terms[edit]

Examples of famous bridges with orthotropic steel decks

Dutch: Erasmus Orthotropic Bridge = Erasmusbrug (Brug = bridge in Dutch)

French: Pont Gustave-Flaubert (Pont = bridge and orthotrope = orthotropic in French)

German: Erasmus-Brücke (Brücke = bridge and orthotrop = orthotropic in German)

Brazilian Portuguese: The Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge (Portuguese: Ponte Juscelino Kubitschek) (Ponte = bridge in Portuguese)

Italian Ponte sullo Stretto di Messina (Ponte = Bridge in Italian)

Norwegian: Nordhordland Bridge = Nordhordlandsbrua (Brua = bridge in Norwegian)