PCA's Sue Lane leads the initiative to define sustainable bridges.
PCA's Sue Lane leads the initiative to define sustainable bridges.

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Also see The Rush to Build Bridges for Sue Lane's views on the infrastructure and the stimulus package.

Last summer the Portland Cement Association came fishing with the right bait. When a PCA staffer asked, “Sue, would you like to work on just concrete bridges?” Sue Lane answered, “Of course.”

And Lane hasn't been sorry. “Now I get to work on something I really love,” she says. As the manager for bridges and transportation structures for PCA, Lane consults with concrete producers, engineers, contractors, and owners on using concrete for bridges and other transportation structures.

Her job draws on her years of experience working as manager of codes and standards for the American Society of Civil Engineers, and as a research structural engineer and team leader for the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, whereshe specialized in concrete bridges. And her experience teaching about concrete bridges at Catholic University doesn't hurt.

“I meet with professors, researchers, engineers, industry leaders, government officials, and congressional staff,” Lane says of her current job. “I bring professors up-to-date and give them the information that is most important to take back to their students. Then they can teach what their students need to know now about concrete and bridge design.” She feels like she is giving back for when she was an adjunct professor/lecturer.

“I would like to help concrete not only maintain its market share, but grow the inventory of concrete structures,” she says. “And I'd like to see our nation reduce the number of deficient bridges.”

Promoting sustainability

Another goal for Lane is to apply sustainability to bridge design. Currently, there are no nationally accepted sustainability criteria for bridges.

“By proposing new criteria, owners could assess the effect the entire structure provides for the community it serves,” she says. “It would be helpful to have a national criteria.” The effort must involve federal and state governments, and the concrete, steel, and wood industries. All stakeholders would have to agree on what makes a bridge sustainable.

This would also help Lane in another goal: More durable structures are needed to develop a strong infrastructure. “About 25% of our current bridges in America are deficient,” she says. “Of that 25%, 13% are functionally obsolete and 12% are structurally deficient.” These numbers must improve because, “if our infrastructure fails, we fail as a nation, externally.”

Lane's high-profile role also proves that women can be important in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Lane's niece recently asked her if women can build bridges. Lane told her that women can and do build bridges. “There are a lot of good, smart women out there,” says Lane. She doesn't want to see them discouraged from entering the field. But Lane is happy with the increased number of women she sees in the industry. She remembers being the only women in her class when she received her master's degree. It hasn't always been an easy road to be the lone woman.

But Lane has persevered because of her love for what she does.

Lane hopes she can do more to encourage women to pursue construction-related fields. She would like to see future generations of women with the confidence to pursue their dreams.

Women in Concrete brings you stories about women who are making a difference in the concrete industry. Each month we will bring you profiles, studies, or surveys to show you the latest on women in the concrete industry. Send comments or ideas to Kari Moosmann at kmoosmann@hanleywood.com.