Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Hsiao, Jen-Kan


Current specifications of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) include restrictions on the live load deflections of highway bridge girders. Conventional practice, which utilizes hand calculations to estimate girder deflections, assumes that all girders of a highway bridge deflect to the same degree. In addition, the conventional equations do not account for AASHTO specifications requiring the evaluation of extreme force effects. As such, the accuracy of the conventional approach for calculating girder deflections is under question. The purpose of this study is, therefore, to check the accuracy of the conventional approach by testing the two aforementioned assumptions made by the equations. A composite steel girder bridge example has been selected from Design of Highway Bridges: An LRFD Approach, Third Edition by Richard M. Barker and Jay A. Puckett. The design example specifies the dimensions for all structural elements, as well as the girder type and spacing. The design example does not include specifications for the bridge bearings, and so bearing pads are designed according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Bridge Manual (2012). This study consists of two steps. First, a hand-calculated live load deflection for the bridge example is derived from the conventional approach (assuming all girders deflect to the same degree and without consideration for extreme force effects). Next, the finite element analysis software, NISA/Display IV, is utilized to model and analyze the real-world deflections of the bridge model. Three live loading conditions are applied to the finite element model, in accordance with AASHTO specifications. For first live load condition, the live loads are positioned at the center of each traffic lane. The second and third conditions apply extreme force effects to an interior girder and exterior girder, respectively. The results for each finite element analysis are then compared with the conventional, hand-calculated deflection. The results of this study contradict the two aforementioned assumptions made by the conventional equations for calculating girder deflections. Firstly, this study demonstrates that interior girders experience a significantly greater live load deflection than interior girders. More importantly, the results indicate that the conventional equations underestimate the live load deflection of an interior girder subjected to extreme force effects. None of the results, however, suggest that the bridge example is at risk of excessive deformation, and so the extent to which these drawbacks present a concern can be left to the discretion of the engineer.




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