Leveraging collaboration to advance bridge bundling programs

Utilizing partnerships can help maximize effectiveness and efficiency of improvements to local bridge networks

As state departments of transportation continue work to improve the condition of local bridge systems, many regions are seeking ways to expedite repairs and replacements. Bridge bundling is one proven tool that agencies are using to address the needs of multiple bridges under a single contract.

By using a collaborative approach to bridge bundling, state DOTs can partner with local bridge owners to address projects grouped by a common need or characteristic, such as:

  • Full or partial replacement
  • Type of rehabilitation
  • Bridge size
  • Complexity
  • Structure or geometry
  • Waterway or region

Bundling similar projects creates economies of scale and opportunities for repetitive assembly line-like efficiencies that save money and deliver improvements faster.

Knowing its state had more than 1,000 locally owned bridges in poor condition, the Michigan Department of Transportation initiated a $25 million pilot program to test a partnership focused bridge bundling approach. MDOT replaced the superstructures on 19 bridges and reopened single-span structures in 60 days and multiple-span structures in 90 days.

Six steps to success

Creating a successful collaborative bridge bundling program is a multistep process that needs to be customized to the local network and surrounding communities.

1. Determine goals, build a coalition and define success

Identifying the  long-term goals that will help create alignment and drive success is a good first step. Then  seek consensus among key stakeholders. Another consideration is determining the  implementation strategies that are best to pursue. Will a centralized, multifaceted DOT team take the program to the finish line? Is it best for a district-led teams, responsible for maintaining the project after completion, to deliver the project? Depending on the organization of a DOT, options could include aligning the program around subject-matter experts in bridge design, innovative contracting, or perhaps design or maintenance.

Next, consider  creating a coalition to give the program legs. Local bridge owners, state and local agencies, the local construction industry and other stakeholders, such as regional planning commissions, economic development corporations, or historic preservation committees may have valuable insights about a structure’s needs or requirements. Engaging these stakeholders during planning and development can also help inform the assessment of programmatic risk.

Once the coalition is assembled, ask them to help define what a successful program looks like.

Doing this can create a unified, single-focused team that can reach a consensus on program objectives, funding sources, delivery methods and more easily resolve conflicts.

2. Identify champions at all levels

Internal champions both within the DOT and local agencies at all levels of program delivery can help launch and sustain the new program. Effective internal advocates should also have:

  • Passion for the program, its mission and vision
  • Support of agency leadership
  • Authority to drive technical innovations and promote cultural change
  • An understanding of current industry constraints, including lead times and contractor capacity

External champions are also powerful advocates. Ideal candidates, such as elected officials, respected area business leaders and community influencers, will possess many of the same qualities as DOT champions.

3. Engage the community

Educating the community about the reasons for and benefits of collaborative bridge bundling is essential, not only to gain support for bundling programs, but  also to  help generate support for securing needed funding.

These questions can spark productive dialogues:

  • Are impacted communities willing to endure a complete bridge closure and detour in exchange for a shorter delivery schedule, or do they want to continue using their daily route with reduced lanes for an extended period?
  • Can the region’s economy endure more than one roadway closure in a single season, or does the program need to span multiple seasons?
  • How will a closed bridge affect emergency response times?
  • If a bridge has been closed for many years, can it be permanently removed and is there interest in preserving the bridge’s historical value?

These answers can help shape the program and secure community support.

4. Demonstrate the benefits with a pilot program

To prove bridge bundling’s effectiveness and ensure success, consider:

  • Targeting a small number of projects requiring the same type of repair or replacement
  • Conducting a thorough risk assessment and risk mitigation of the selected bridges
  • Ensuring local contractors are aligned on the preferred delivery method
  • Implementing innovative solutions and approaches that have the potential to save time and money, such as standardized designs or prefabricated components

These steps can help create a competitive bidding environment and accelerate delivery.

5. Showcase success to build trust and momentum

After closeout, celebrate the program’s success so stakeholders see the accelerated pace at which new or improved bridge infrastructure is being delivered. Use this time to solicit public input on program delivery to gain key insights on alternative delivery methods or how to engage with the community on future programs.

6. Adjust as needed

Bridge bundling programs are not one-size-fits-all approaches. Local network needs, community goals and expectations will influence each program uniquely.

Material availability and contractor capacity is critical to determine critical details such as:

  • What can be mass produced?
  • Should standardized designs be developed using different materials to improve availability?
  • Should bridges be bundled a certain way to streamline design and permitting, but contracted in different bundles to meet contractor capacity?

Better together

Creating a successful bridge bundling program requires a long-term vision sustained by determination, anticipated benefits and proven approaches. When the program launches, state DOTs and local bridge owners can make significant, accelerated progress on a backlog of improvements and replacements, increasing state-of-good-repair conditions and safety across the entire bridge system.


Josh Olund, PE
Structures Department Manager
HNTB Corporation

As the structures department manager for HNTB’s Northern New England office, Olund has led the successful development and delivery of dozens of bridge design projects, from concept through construction completion, for various clients, including the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Maine Department of Transportation.

Contact him at (207) 228-0893 or


Julian Gutierrez, PE
Bridge Group Manager
HNTB Corporation

Gutierrez serves as the bridge group manager for HNTB in West Florida. He has more than 30 years of experience in structural design and specializes in preliminary and final design for bridges and associated structures in both steel and concrete. His experience ranges from simple miscellaneous structures to complex multilevel interchanges and specializes in coordination efforts required between other disciplines and facility owners.

Contact him at (813) 498-5127 or