Speed Fab-Crete bridges: Precast arch design melds aesthetics, efficiency

Bridge in Springtown

The bridge to a better future doesn’t take as long to build any longer.

Speed Fab-Crete (SFC), a Fort Worth-based company, designs, manufactures and installs three-sided concrete arch bridge systems that are approved by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for pedestrians or vehicular traffic. They are clear span, environmentally friendly, economical, durable and virtually maintenance-free, according to Speed Fab-Crete officials.

“Basically, we’re taking an older technique and updating it,” said Randy Landers, director of business development for SFC. “This is replacing with something a lot better looking and that will last a long time.”

Jeff Harwell, manager for SFC’s Bridge Systems Division, said that TxDOT specifies bridges are to be built for a 75-year life span and that SFC engineers target a 100-year span. Harwell also said that while the arch bridge systems might cost a little more to build, over time they will more than make up the difference through savings on maintenance.

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With the product prefabricated off-site, there is a tighter adherence to specifications, less on-site work and quality control of modular units. Installation is fast, usually within days, which minimizes any road closing and detours. Also, precast concrete eliminates costly maintenance of exposed bridge decks and bridge deck icing, requiring virtually no maintenance, because the base (concrete arch) is below ground.

“The incremental cost between the bare minimum and this will pay itself back over time,” Harwell said. “We give the best of both. We call it a buried bridge. It’s a large bridge, but it’s buried, like a pipe.”

A bridge, by definition, connects two banks and is constructed above ground on-site for the most part (concrete pieces are often made off-site). They are straight in design. SFC bridges are actually more like culverts, arched, and are constructed off-site.

Also, Harwell said, they simply look better.

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“The aesthetics of an arch bridge are a selling point, especially in the private industry,” Harwell said.

And, after 15 years of manufacturing the arch bridge systems, SFC recently performed a first. The company installed a bridge on one of its own larger projects where it is the general contractor, the 60,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Roger Williams Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealership in Weatherford. To get from one part of the dealership to another required crossing a creek. To do so, one of SFC’s arch bridges was installed.

“When the master plan came out, one of the first things needed was a way to get across that creek,” Harwell said. “Our challenge was to find a design that would not interfere with the road.”

The small vehicular bridge has a 32-foot span with a 6-foot rise and roadway width of 40 feet with two lanes and two sidewalks. While the bridge itself may seem small, there was a major obstacle that had to be conquered.

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“That stream is a designated drainage under the care and control of the Corps of Engineers,” Landers said. “We couldn’t disturb anything. But we had to have a bridge to connect the two halves of the dealership.”

Harwell said the $210,000 bridge project was easy to incorporate into the overall design scheme and stay within budget. It also fit well with the upscale, aesthetic design, a major factor in choosing the company’s arch bridge systems.

Harwell said numerous facilities have made arch bridges their signature features, including several golf courses. Some communities with ponds now use the bridges as an amenity, creating a way to cross over and adding beauty.

The SFC arch bridges also allow a better water flow for less clogging of debris. This also helps lower the cost of maintenance.

Harwell said the idea for arch bridges and structures originated in Ohio with a group of engineers. However, they needed someone to sell their product, and that’s where SFC eventually came in.

“That company got bought, and that one got bought,” Harwell said. “I worked for one of those companies. Then I went to work for Speed Fab. It was a natural progression.”

Arch bridge systems feature easy installation and durability, coming in a variety of shapes, sizes and treatments for spans from 12 to 72 feet. Their strength, durability, cost-savings and quick installation have led to their growing popularity.

The company has installed most of its bridges in the Metroplex and Austin areas. These include Cobb Park in Fort Worth, Cambridge Crossing in Dallas, Forest Lane in Dallas, La Villita in Irving, Tripp Road in Mesquite, and Bicentennial Park in Southlake, which featured a curved sectional.

A structure in Mesquite required seven cells of about 32 feet each, resulting in a finished project of more than 220 feet, Landers said.

“They wanted aesthetics. They didn’t want to raise the road,” he said.

As to how big an arch bridge project can be, that depends on the buyer, Landers said.

“We could do a lake. There’s just more challenges there. As long as you can add modules, you can go farther,” he said.

“While all systems offer particular benefits, the precast arch system offers longevity of the box systems, the hydraulics of the pipe systems, and the clear span and natural bottom of the beam systems,” Harwell said. “None of these systems offer the aesthetics of the arch.”