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Chapter 8

Suspension-Bridge Design

Suspension bridges can span distances from 2,000 to 7,000 feet, which is far longer than any other kind of bridge. They also tend to be the most expensive to build. True to their name, suspension bridges suspend the roadway from huge main cables, which extend from one end of the bridge to the other. These cables rest on top of high towers and are secured at each end by anchorages. The towers enable the main cables to be draped over long distances.


8-1. Suspension bridges have two basic systems-main cables supported by towers at each end over the obstacle and a roadway suspended from the main cables (Figure 8-1). Suspender cables support the floor beams, which support the stringers that support the roadway. Stiffening trusses further spread the live load to the suspenders. Suspension-bridge design requires analysis of the following items:

  • Load to be carried.
  • Panel length.
  • Floor beams and stringers.
  • Stiffening trusses.
  • Dead load.
  • Suspenders.
  • Main cables.
  • Towers.
  • Tower bracing and backstays.
  • Anchorages.

Figure 8-1. Suspension Bridge

Figure 8-1. Suspension Bridge


8-2. Unstiffened bridges consist of floors, without stiffening trusses or girders, suspended from cables. These bridges are suitable only where live load or wind load can never cause serious deformation of the cable. An example of this type of bridge would be a footbridge, where the live load is very light. Other examples are structures with a large dead load but insignificant live load.


8-3. Stiffened bridges have flexible cables that are stiffened by suspended girders or trusses. These bridges minimize local changes in roadway slope due to live loads. They are constructed by framing the floor beams of the floor system into stiffening trusses and supporting these trusses with hangers running to the cables.


8-4. Self-anchored bridges are supported on vertical foundations, and no anchor cable is required. The horizontal force on the main cable is exerted by endwise thrusts in the stiffening girder.


8-5. Multiple-span bridges are a combination of two or more adjoining suspension bridges sharing a common anchorage. The towers of these bridges are connected by a tie cable to restrain movement of the tower tops from unbalanced live loads.


8-6. The selection of a bridge site is very critical. Factors to consider when determining a bridge site are the tower spacing, the bridge clearance, and the work area.


8-7. Keep the distance between towers as short as possible (not more than 400 feet). Also, keep the towers at the same elevation if possible. Long spans with a considerable difference in tower elevations require large wire ropes and increase material-acquisition problems. Longer spans also may increase cable tension, requiring heavier towers and anchorages and increasing construction effort. There should be minimal differences in the tower and the bank elevations.


8-8. Avoid high points between towers for adequate clearance due to cable sag. When determining clearance, consider sag based on anticipated loads. Select a fairly level space around each tower. For clearance purposes, select a sharp slope just past the loading area.


8-9. Factors to consider when designing a suspension bridge are the sag ratio, the camber, the cradle and flare, and the backstay slope. Figure 8-2 shows the suspension-bridge design factors.

Figure 8-2. Suspension-Bridge Design Factors

Figure 8-2. Suspension-Bridge Design Factors


8-10. Sag controls the length and stability of the bridge. The sag ratio varies from 5 to 16.66 percent. The sag ratio is computed by dividing the sag by the span length. If the main cables have a flat curve or low sag ratio, the bridge has more vertical stability but the cable stress is high and strong anchorages are required. If the sag ratio is high, the cable is under less stress and anchorages may be placed closer to the towers.


8-11. Camber is the vertical distance between the top of the floor beam at the midspan and a straight line drawn between the tops of the tower sills. Camber allows for deflection of a bridge when loaded. The camber should be equal to 0.67 percent of the span length.


8-12. Cradle is the lateral distance from the midpoint of one of the main cables to a straight line drawn between its support points on the towers. Flare is the lateral distance from the cable support on the tower to the anchorage. The cradle should be equal to 1.25 percent of half the span length. The flare should be between 2.5 and 3.5 percent of the horizontal backstay length. Both cradle and flare help steady a bridge.


8-13. Backstay slope is the ratio of the vertical difference between the deadman and the tower support of the main cable to the difference in elevation between the deadman and the tower. The angle of the backstay and main cable may be the same. If so, the stress will be equal on both sides of the tower. The backstay slope is usually a 1:2.5 ratio.


8-14. Use either a uniform or concentrated load condition when designing suspension bridges. If five or more concentrated loads are carried on the bridge at one time, consider this load as a uniform load condition to simplify the design process. Use the dead and live loads when designing floor and side-rail systems. Use the dead, live, and impact loads when designing the cable system. Assume the impact load to be 100 percent of the live load.


8-15. Figure 8-3 shows a typical suspension-bridge panel. A truss helps spread the load over several panels and stabilizes a bridge. When the truss is omitted, suspend the roadway and posts from the main cables.

Figure 8-3. Typical Suspension-Bridge Panel

Figure 8-3. Typical Suspension-Bridge Panel


8-16. Assume a panel length between 10 and 15 feet to start the design process. A 10-foot panel is usually a practical length. Number the panels symmetrically from zero at the center suspender to the number of panels needed to reach the towers (Figure 8-4). A design is simplified if there is an even number of panel points, thus dividing the bridge exactly in half. Otherwise, number the panel points by halves (0.5, 1.5, 2.5, and so forth), beginning with the panel closest to the center span.

Figure 8-4. Panel Points

Figure 8-4. Panel Points


8-17. Use Table 8-1 to select the nominal stringer size. This table assumes uniform loading and uses an allowable bending stress of 1 ksi. If designing a bridge for a concentrated load, use half the load value selected from this table. For bending stresses other than 1 ksi, multiply the load in Table 8-1 by the new allowable bending stress. The allowable bending stress for timber is shown in Table C-1.


8-18. Table 8-2 lists floor-beam sizes for various loading conditions. Design the floor beams so that the suspenders wrap around the floor beams. Extend the beams beyond the width of the roadway so that knee braces can be added to support the side-rail posts.


8-19. Use 2-inch planks for footbridges. Use 3-inch planks for light vehicle bridges.


8-20. Side rails are not necessary on very light or short footbridges. As the span and the load increase, add side rails to stabilize the bridge. Use 2- x 4-inch posts and a single side rail for light footbridges. Use 3- x 6-inch posts with double side rails and a toe board for vehicle bridges. Make the posts about 42 inches long for safety and convenience.


8-21. Saw-toothed bracing helps stiffen the truss and spread the load over several panels. Use 2- x 6-inch lumber for saw-toothed bracing. Knee bracing holds the posts and floor beams. Extend the floor beams to allow for the knee braces. Use 2- x 4-inch material. Sway bracing helps stabilize the bridge laterally. On light bridges, heavy-gauge wire with rack sticks (Figure 8-5) is sufficient. Heavier bridges require timber sway bracing (Figure 8-6).

Figure 8-5. Wire Sway Bracing

Figure 8-5. Wire Sway Bracing


Figure 8-6  Timber Sway Bracing

Figure 8-6 Timber Sway Bracing


8-22. After selecting the truss and floor system, determine the dead load. To find the dead load of a panel, add the weight of the components (suspenders, floor beam, deck planks, stringers, toe boards, side-rail posts, knee braces, side rails, curbs, and clips). The dead load is measured in kips per panel.


8-23. Suspenders carry the live, dead, and impact loads. Assume that the live load equals the gross weight of the traffic using the bridge. Determine the dead load according to paragraph 8-22. For design purposes, the impact load equals the live load. Use Table 8-1 and a safety factor of 5 to determine the allowable load per suspender. Compute as follows:

8-24. The effective suspender length is the distance between the main cable and the floor beam. Add sufficient length to each suspender to accommodate connections at each end. Compute the suspender length as follows:

8-25. An additional 5 to 6 feet is adequate for connections with the main cable and the floor beams. The loop must include a thimble to prevent the main cable from shearing the suspender cable.


8-26. Use equations 8-3 through 8-10 or Table 8-3 to design the main cables. Assume a cable size to determine the dead load. Determine the cable tension and adjust the cable to accommodate the tension. Redetermine the cable tension (based on the new cable size) and check the cable's strength. Continue this process until a suitable cable size can be selected. Design a main cable as discussed below.


8-27. The normal-design process is as follows:

  • Loads.

  • Horizontal tension.

  • Slope.

  • Tension in all cables.

  • Allowable tension in one cable.

  • Cable length.


8-28. Use Table 8-3 to determine the cable tension factor and the cable length factor. Locate the appropriate sag ratio on the left-hand side and read to the right to Column 2 or 3, whichever applies. Compute the cable tension, length, and size and the number of cables required as follows:

  • Cable tension.

  • Cable length.

  • Cable size. Find the tension that all the cables must hold (equation 8-6) and the tension in each cable (equation 8-9). Next, find the size of cable or wire rope and its corresponding breaking strength (Table 8-4).
  • Number of cables required.


8-29. The expedient field design may be necessary. To determine the tension in a cable for a given span and load, use Table 8-3 as follows:

  • Column 1. Find the sag ratio.
  • Column 2. Use this data when designing suspension bridges to determine the cable tension when a uniform load is suspended along a horizontal span. Multiply the appropriate tension factor in Column 2 by the uniform load and by the span length.
  • Column 3. Use this data to determine the cable tension in an unloaded cableway. Multiply the weight per foot of cable by the appropriate tension factor in Column 3 and by the length of the cable to obtain the cable tension.
  • Column 4. Use this data to compute the cable length that is between the supports. Multiply the span length by the length factor in Column 4.


8-30. Backstays are the portions of the main cables that are behind the towers. Ensure that the maximum allowable tension of the cable is not exceeded. Compute the tension in the backstays by multiplying the results of equation 8-7 by the secant of the horizontal backstay angle. For equal tension in the cables on both sides of the tower, the backstay angle should be as follows:


8-31. In most cases, construct towers at the site. After determining the type of installation and the cable sag, determine the tower height from the field profile. Keep towers as low as possible to simplify the design and construction. The main consideration is the timber size required. Figure 8-7 shows examples of improvised towers. Compute the tower height as follows:

Figure 8-7.  Improvised Suspension-Bridge Towers

Figure 8-7. Improvised Suspension-Bridge Towers


8-32. The cable (on both sides of the tower) places horizontal and vertical loads on the tower, depending on the angle of approach. The guy lines resist the horizontal load, placing an additional vertical load on the tower. Table 8-5 shows the vertical reactions on the tower for varying sizes of cable, sags, and slopes.


8-33. Vertical reactions of the main cables determine the post size of the towers. For simplicity, a 12- x 12-inch post will carry loads of up to 2 1/2-ton trucks. However, use Table 8-5 and Table 8-6 if determining a minimum size. Determine the maximum vertical reaction for a particular sag ratio, slope, tieback, and cable size from Table 8-5. Using this value, determine a post size from Table 8-6. The area, the modulus of elasticity, and the allowable stress must be known to determine a post size. Divide the length (in inches) by the minimum depth (in inches). Compute the post capacity by multiplying the allowable stress by the area. Brace the tower and place saddles (Figure 8-8) on top of the posts to protect them from the cables. Choose a post with a capacity greater than the maximum vertical reaction.

Figure 8-8.  Saddles

Figure 8-8. Saddles


8-34. Saddles may be required to protect timber cross members when using heavy cables or long spans. Make the saddles from sheet steel or pipe. The strap shown in Figure 8-8A can easily be made from scrap steel. Indent the strap to position and steady the cables. Figure 8-8B shows a heavier plate and saddle-block combination. Hold the cable in place by partially driving the nails on either side of the cable. The saddle block and plate can be used on flat timbers to allow for curvature of the cable. Figure 8-8C shows a pipe saddle. Use it where several cables or a heavier cable is required. Saddles made from 1/2-inch steel plates are sufficient for cables up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.


8-35. Guy lines take up the horizontal forces on the tower. Four 3/8-inch-diameter wire ropes are usually enough to hold a tower in place, provided their slope is 2 feet of run to every foot of rise. This distance provides a margin of safety and allows considerable latitude in placing guy lines at an angle to the direction of the cable.


8-36. For speed and economy, use natural anchors in cableway and tramway installations wherever possible. Other temporary anchors include pickets, rock anchors, holdfasts, and deadmen. Fabricate permanent anchors of steel and set them in concrete or fasten them to permanent structures. Always fasten the guy lines to the anchors as near to the ground as possible so that they leave the anchor as parallel to the ground as possible (except in the case of rock anchors). The wedging action of a rock anchor is strongest under a direct pull and should be set with this effect in mind.

8-37. Trees, stumps, or rocks can serve as natural anchors for expedient work in the field. Avoid using a rotten tree or stump or a dead tree as an anchor. It is always advisable to lash the first tree or stump to a second one to provide added support. A transom (Figure 8-9) provides a stronger anchor than a single tree. When using rocks as natural anchors, examine the rocks carefully to be sure that they are large enough and firmly embedded in the ground. An outcropping of rock or a heavy boulder lying on the ground will serve as a satisfactory anchor. See FM 5-125 for more detail on anchors.

Figure 8-9. Transom

Figure 8-9. Transom


8-38. One factor in the strength of a picket holdfast is the holding power of the ground. Strengthen the holdfast by increasing the surface area of the pickets against the ground. Drive two or more pickets into the ground and lash them together to form a stronger holdfast than a single picket. Make a multiple-picket holdfast as follows:

  • Drive round pickets (at least 3 inches in diameter and 5 feet long) about 3 feet into the ground, spaced 3 to 6 feet apart in line with the guy line (Figure 8-10A).
  • Slope the pickets about 15 degrees from the vertical, opposite the direction of the pull.
  • Tie a fiber rope to the first picket with a clove hitch, and take four to six turns around the two pickets from the bottom of the second picket to the top of the first. Fasten the rope to the second picket with a clove hitch just above the turns. Pass a stake between the rope turns.
  • Tighten the rope by twisting the stake and then drive the stake into the ground.
  • Place a similar lashing between the second and third pickets. If using wire rope for lashing, make only two complete turns around each pair of pickets. If neither fiber nor wire rope is available for lashing, nail boards between the pickets, from the top of the front picket to the bottom of the second picket.

Figure 8-10. Picket Holdfasts

Figure 8-10. Picket Holdfasts

8-39. The main strength of a multiple-picket holdfast is in the strength of the first, or front, picket. To increase the surface area of the first picket against the ground, drive three or four pickets into the ground close together. Lash this picket group to a second picket group, and lash the second group to a third picket group (Figure 8-10B). Ash pickets (installed as outlined above) should withstand the following pulls in undisturbed, loamy soils:

  • Single picket-700 pounds.
  • 1-1 picket holdfast combination-1,400 pounds.
  • 1-1-1 picket holdfast combination-1,800 pounds.
  • 2-1 picket holdfast combination-2,000 pounds.
  • 3-2-1 picket holdfast combination-4,000 pounds.


8-40. For heavy loading of an anchor, spread the load over the largest possible area by increasing the number of pickets. A combination holdfast has four or five multiple-picket holdfasts (parallel to each other) with a heavy log resting against the front pickets to form a combination log-picket holdfast (Figure 8-11). Fasten the guy line or anchor sling to the log that bears against the pickets. The log should bear evenly against all pickets to obtain maximum strength. The strength of the log will affect the strength of the combination as much as the strength of the individual picket holdfasts. Carefully select the timber to stand the maximum pull on the line without appreciable bending. A steel cross member will serve the same function, forming a combination steel-picket holdfast (Figure 8-12).

Figure 8-11. Combination Log-Picket Holdfast

Figure 8-11. Combination Log-Picket Holdfast


Figure 8-12.  Combination Steel-Picket Holdfast

Figure 8-12. Combination Steel-Picket Holdfast


8-41. A rock anchor (Figure 8-13) has an eye on one end. The other end is threaded and has a nut, an expanding wedge, and a stop nut on it. Insert the threaded end of the rock anchor in the hole, with the nut clear of the wedge. After placing the anchor, insert a crowbar through the eye of the rock anchor and twist the crowbar. Doing this causes the threads of the rock anchor to draw the nut up against the wedge, forcing the wedge out against the sides of the hole in the rock.

Figure 8-13. Rock Anchor

Figure 8-13. Rock Anchor

8-42. Since the wedging action is strongest under a direct pull, always set rock anchors so that the pull is in direct line with the shaft of the anchor. Drill holes for rock anchors 5 inches deep. In hard rock, use a 1-inch-diameter drill. In soft rock, use a 3/4-inch-diameter drill. Drill the hole as neatly as possible so that the rock anchor will develop maximum strength. In extremely soft rock, use a different type of anchor as the wedging action may not give sufficient holding power.


8-43. A deadman consists of a log buried in the ground with the guy line or anchor sling connected to it at its center (Figure 8-14). A deadman provides greater strength than a holdfast under most conditions. It is more suitable for permanent installation, and it is the best form of anchor for heavy loads because of the large surface area presented against the undisturbed soil. In some installations, it may be necessary to slacken or tighten the guy lines by putting in a turnbuckle near the ground or installing a take-up tackle.

Figure 8-14.  Log Deadman

Figure 8-14. Log Deadman

8-44. Bury the deadman as deep as necessary for good bearing on solid ground. Follow these steps:

Step 1. Undercut the bank in the direction toward the guy line at an angle of about 15 degrees from the vertical. This will use as much of the surface of the undisturbed earth as possible.

Step 2. Drive stakes into the bank at several points over the deadman to increase the bearing surface.

Step 3. Cut a narrow, inclined trench for the guy line or anchor sling through the bank, leading to the center of the deadman. Place a short beam or log on the surface of the ground under the guy line or anchor sling at the outlet of the inclined trench, if possible.

Step 4. Fasten the guy line or anchor sling securely to the center of the deadman so that the standing part of the line (on which the pull occurs) will lead from the bottom of the deadman. This reduces the tendency of the deadman to rotate upward out of the hole.

Step 5. Clip the running end of the guy line securely to the standing part. The strength of the deadman depends partly on the strength of the buried log, but the main strength is the holding power of the earth. Table 8-7 lists the deadman holding power in ordinary earth.

8-45. Design and place bearing plates where the cable is in contact with, or bears on, the log or squared timber deadman. The bearing plate prevents the cable from cutting through the timber. Table 8-8 shows the required size of the bearing plate based on cable and deadman sizes. See TC 5-210, FM 5-125, or FM 5-34 for more information about a deadman.

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