Atorod Azizinami Atorod Azizinamini, 57, is director of the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center, at Florida International University, and a professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering there. A university-led partnership recently won an $11.4-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to make it easier to get from the university to neighboring Sweetwater and other parts of Greater Miami. Mr. Azizinamini is lending his expertise on principles of accelerated bridge building for part of that project, an innovative pedestrian cable bridge that will connect the campus and Sweetwater. Here he explains the project and his role.

Florida International University and the adjacent City of Sweetwater wanted to make it easier and safer to walk between the campus and the city’s main street, which are separated by a busy highway. So we’re going to build a pedestrian bridge with a unique design of the cable type that, especially with lighting at night, is going to become a postcard for this area. And we plan to do it following principles of sustainability and urban place-making.

We will be working with the designers to incorporate two aspects of our research here at the university’s Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center—minimizing on-site construction and interruption of traffic by building pieces off site, and making sure that the knowledge we have developed in designing bridges for service life is incorporated. Those principles are primarily intended for vehicular bridges but deal with many elements that affect the service life of a pedestrian bridge, such as temperature loading and exposure to weather.

I’ll use the continuous monitoring of construction and performance of the new bridge in assignments for my engineering students. They’ll observe how bridges behave under daily temperature changes, under their weight load, and so on. It’s really going to be a live laboratory.

I hope they’ll come to share my interest in bridges. I developed mine when I was young, in Iran. I wanted to do something new dealing with infrastructures and buildings and bridges. At 17, I came to the U.S. for college. After getting my undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma, I worked in Charleston. Then I attended the University of South Carolina, where I got my graduate degrees. All my degrees were in the steel-structures area. I then worked for Construction Technology Laboratories, in Skokie, Ill., which is associated with the Portland Cement Association and is known for concrete.

Some people label me as a steel guy, but I’ve been exposed to both materials. You need the knowledge of both to be creative and come up with innovative solutions to replace or retrofit many bridges across the nation.

We also need to get the most out of the bridges we have, and to make sure that the bridges we build in the future have a longer service life. To that end, we just completed as part of a national strategy a comprehensive guide with the best principles of designing for service life. It took us four and a half years to develop that. I started it while I was on the faculty of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and finished it just a few months ago, here at FIU.

We plan to monitor our pedestrian bridge here for many years. This should provide us with valuable data that will allow us to verify many assumptions that we have made in developing our guidelines for designing bridges for service life. It should give us a better and clearer picture of how bridge materials react to weather elements and deteriorate.

—As told to Peter Monaghan; photo by: John Zillioux