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Name: Hezza
Status: Student
Grade: Other
Location: Outside U.S.
Country: Great Britain
Date: November 2007

Why does a bridge have rollers under it? How do the rollers of a bridge work?

Hi Hezza,

There are many, many types of different bridge structures, and I do not know which type you are specifically referring to, but here is a general answer. As temperature rises, a bridge expands in length. There must be some way to accommodate this. One way is to allow the end (or ends) of the bridge to move by mounting one or both ends on a roller. On a hot day, a very long bridge can increase its length by several feet. If some means was not used to accommodate this, the bridge could buckle. The "roller" method is usually only used on smaller, rigidly-constructed bridges. Long suspension bridges, on the other hand, are designed so they are higher in the center. they are usually not set on the rollers. Increased length caused by rising temperature, simply causes the center part to rise higher.


Bob Wilson.


A bridge of any substantial length is going to be affected by changes in temperature. As the bridge heats up on a hot summer day with lots of sunshine on the pavement, the different sections will try to expand. On a cold winter night, it will contract. While this expansion and contraction may not make much difference in relatively short distances, for much longer bridges even a little change can become significant. (a few inches may not seem like much on a mile long bridge, unless you are trying to pour the concrete into those few inches!) Rollers or other forms of expansion joints exist to allow multiple sections of a bridge to mesh together, while still adapting to changing conditions. They act much like a very sturdy set of wheels, allowing the upper section to roll back and forth.

Ryan Belscamper

Rollers are one type of mechanism that allows expansion and rotation of the bridge.

As the temperature changes a bridge expands or contracts due to thermal expansion of the metal and concrete that the bridge is made of. The ground stays at a fairly constant temperature. Other causes of bridge motion are: a bridge support may settle, the earth may move, heavy loads cause the bridge to deflect, wind might make the bridge deflect, and the bridge may shrink or creep as the concrete cures.

Rollers are one type of mechanism. Other kinds are rocker bearings, knuckle pin bearings, plain sliding bearings (flat plates) and elastomeric bearings (slabs of rubber-like material that shear). All of these support the bridge and allow the bridge to move relative to the bridge supports.

A book called "Bridge Bearings and Expansion Joints" is useful.

Robert Erck

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