...solution for the nation, for persisting in developing an innovative technology and for doing so while serving as an award-winning conventional bridge engineer at his “day job,” John Hillman has been voted the Award of Excellence winner of 2010 by the editors of Engineering News-Record.

The first two permanent bridges built using HCBs were funded in 2008 by grants from the Federal Highway Administration’s Innovative Bridge Research and Development program (IBRD). Hillman convinced Jack Waxweiler, commissioner of Lockport Township, Ill., to use HCBs on the High Road Bridge, which was going to be designed by Hillman’s “day-job” employer, Teng & Associates Inc., Chicago. “John didn’t have to convince me too much,” Waxweiler says.

At the Orono, Maine-based University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, the team tested a prototype HCB endlessly for fatigue loading, bending and shear. The lab’s hydraulic ram maxed out at 290,000 lb of shear loading, but it couldn’t crack the beam.

Contractor Herlihy Mid-Continent Co., Romeoville, Ill., won the $2.1-million bid. “A precast option would have won” for lowest cost, only because the HCB hasn’t yet achieved mass manufacturing numbers, says Art Haggerty, Herlihy senior project manager. “But it’s converging on parity. On a small job, the [contractor] benefit is in the schedule. The cost of setting the beams is lower.”

The six beams for the 58-ft-long crossing, each about a tenth of the weight of a precast-concrete equivalent, were set in one day in 2009. “The bridge was finished in hardly any time,” Waxweiler says. “I can’t see when it will ever deteriorate. It will change the way we build bridges.”

Later that same year, six beams were also placed in one day for the second project, a 31-ft-long Rte. 23 crossing in Cedar Grove, N.J., later that year. Ron Allen, superintendent with Ritacco Construction Inc., Belleville, N.J., was initially skeptical. His firm won the contract for the $1.34-million bridge in 2009. He thought the beams were “weird,” he recalls. His team thought “this wasn’t going to work. But it was the easiest set of beams I ever dealt with.” A skeleton crew placed six beams, each weighing about 1.2 tons, in one day with one excavator.

“He really is that romantic American myth – an inventor toiling in obscurity…while working 50 hours a week as a bridge engineer”

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” says Allen. “They are so light, it changes your whole approach to the erection process. It gives the contractor so much flexibility. I told the state, ‘You ought to be using this everywhere.’ ”

Next project: Maine. Fabrication of the eight beams for the Knickerbocker Bridge is nearly complete. The Maine Dept. of Transportation has awarded Wyman & Simpson Inc., Richmond, Maine, a $3.8-million contract for the $6-million bridge this year.

Struggling Toward Reality

The first HCB bridge underwent testing on Nov. 7, 2007, in Pueblo, Colo. A locomotive pulling 26 heavy-axle-load coal cars crossed the 30-ft-long, 17-ft-wide span. Each car weighed about 315,000 lbs. Honoring what he calls a Latvian engineering custom, Hillman stood beneath the bridge while the train crossed it. “That’s as nervous as I’ve ever been,” he says, chuckling.

The event represented a milestone not just because the beam proved its mettle but also because it justified...