Completed four months ahead of schedule, in time to carry the Olympic torch over Greece's Gulf of Corinth toward Athen, the Rion-Antirion Bridge was named the 2005 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Presented this evening at the sixth annual Outstanding Projects and Leaders (OPAL) awards gala in Tysons Corner, Va., the award recognizes the project's significant contribution to the civil engineering profession and its local community. The longest cable-stayed bridge in the world was chosen from a field of five finalists, which were selected from the 22 nominations.

Spanning the Gulf of Corinth from Rion to Antirion, the bridge was completed in August 2004. Extreme environmental conditions, including deep waters, high seismicity and constant winds, were only a few of the challenges that had to be overcome to make this century-old vision a reality for Greece.

Despite its many challenges, the bridge's construction set numerous world records and defined new standards for innovative application of engineering principles and construction techniques. The Rion-Antirion Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world--one-and-a-half times longer than Tatara in Japan and the Normandy Bridge in France, with the longest fully-suspended deck at 2,252 meters. It is the first bridge with four consecutive cable- stayed modules (five spans) and has the first foundation built on weak subsurface soils to be reinforced by deep steel pipe inclusions. It also has the deepest bridge foundations at 65 meter depths, the largest bridge diameter at 90 meters and includes an innovative foundation system of "floating" pier bases bearing on a gravel bed over reinforced soils.

Financed through public funds, private equity and bank loans, the project tackled very stringent design requirements. The bridge had to resist seismic forces corresponding to earthquake magnitudes of 7.5+ on the Richter Scale, forces from 250 km/hour winds and a collision of 180,000-ton tankers traveling at 16 knots. The project also had to accommodate tectonic movements of 2m in any direction between any two adjacent pylons.

The design evolved significantly from the original concept as a result of extensive analytical and numerical studies. Design changes included a system of dampers and fuses to control deck and pylon movements and transition piers capable of accommodating three dimensional displacements and rotations to "hold" the deck down during a seismic event.

The project's viability was enhanced after Greece joined the European Union and the bridge was confirmed as one of the 14 priority infrastructure projects for the European economy. As part of the Trans-European Transportation Network, the bridge provides efficient distribution of goods to the region and ports of Italy, thus facilitating commerce with Western Europe. The bridge will strengthen communications with western Greece, which has suffered from underdevelopment and unemployment.

Costing more than $900 million, the marvel completes a vision to span the Gulf of Corinth that reaches back more than 100 years. The bridge is named after Harilaos Trikoupis, the prime minister of Greece at the end of the 19th Century, who first proposed the notion of the bridge. Significant technical challenges resulted in failed tenders by Greek authorities, but a Concession contract was finally awarded in 1993 and financing closed in 1997. The Athens-based joint venture Gefyra S.A., a consortium of the VINCI Group of France and six Greek contractors, was awarded the contract to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the bridge. New York-based Parsons Transportation Group and Langan Engineering and Environmental Service acted as technical advisors to lenders.

Merit finalists for the 2005 OCEA award are the AirTrain JFK Light Rail System at JFK International Airport in New York City; the Mubarak Pumping Station in Toshka, Egypt; the Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir in San Diego; and the Time Warner Center in New York City.

Established in 1960 by ASCE, the OCEA program recognizes projects on the basis of their contribution to the well-being of people and communities, resourcefulness in planning and design challenges, and innovations in materials and techniques. The 2005 OCEA finalists are outstanding examples of how civil engineering can contribute to a community's economic success, improve residents' quality of life and realize a country's decades long dream. Previous winners include the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the World Trade Center Towers.

The OPAL awards honor outstanding projects and professional civil engineers for lifelong contributions in five categories--public works, construction, management, design and education.

Source: ASCE, April 13, 2005