This article will answer the question “what is a beam bridge,” explain its advantages and disadvantages and explore design options.

What is a Beam Bridge?

A beam bridge is a bridge type that is composed of beam members to make up the superstructure of the bridge. In the context of pedestrian, trail, or greenway bridges, beam bridges can be an economical solution for footbridges or light vehicle bridges. 

A beam bridge may also be known as a stringer bridge. A beam bridge design uses multiple horizontal beam members with abutments/piers located on each end. Usually, these members are a simple span where the members only see bending forces. 

Beam bridges include:

  • Curbs
  • Decking
  • Railing

Material Considerations 

The design of a beam bridge for pedestrian use will depend on the materials chosen for construction. Options include:

Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) 

FRP is a lightweight material that requires minimal maintenance and could have a 100+ year lifespan. Although it does have a higher upfront cost than wood or steel, the maintenance and replacement costs are significantly less than wood or steel.


Steel is extremely heavy, can span long distances, and has a long lifespan. Steel bridges are difficult to assemble on an interior trail system, leading to higher installation costs. 


Wood is the least expensive option with the shortest lifespan of about 30 years and requires frequent maintenance. Wood boards often need to be replaced every few years due to rot, and some bridges need to be painted every few years. Wood deck boards can also be slippery when wet, which can be dangerous for pedestrians. harmfulf if the bridge is in a place with heavy foot traffic. 

Considerations for FRP Beam Bridges 

When using FRP, beam bridges are ideal solutions for short spans, ranging from 10 to 24 feet long.

FRP Beam Bridge – Advantages

Beam bridges can bring people together, connect communities, and help people explore nature. Additional benefits include:

  • Access to previously inaccessible lands
  • Allow access to stunning views
  • Beneficial for short spans
  • Can be built quickly with an inexperienced crew
  • Can be built almost anywhere
  • Increase accessibility to anyone who is disabled
  • Can be customized with various rail, curb, and decking options
  • Offer year-round access to flooded areas or crossing over ephemeral (seasonal) streams

FRP Beam Bridge – Disadvantages

When selecting a beam bridge, determine the structural design and environmental factors to ensure a beam bridge is the best option for you.

  • FRP material properties limit the bridge length 
  • Limited camber control

FRP Beam Bridge Considerations 

To accurately determine if a beam bridge is the best option for your project, consider the following factors.

  • Dimensions and strength 
  • Environmental factors  

Dimensions and Strength 

You will need to know the total size (height, length, width) and the design loads. Additionally, the following questions will help to determine the bridge design factor. 

  • Does it need to accommodate foot traffic?
  • Does it need to support bikes or vehicles? 
  • What do the rail heights need to be? 
  • What will the snow and wind loads be?

Environmental Factors 

Ask yourself the following environmental questions. 

  • Will the bridge cross over a body of water?
  • Will the bridge cross over a highway?
  • Is a geotechnical analysis needed?
  • Does a flood study need to be conducted?
  • How difficult will it be to transport bridge parts and tools to the site?

Contact Us When You’re Ready for a Quote 

The Areté Structures I-Beam Stringer Bridge is an economical solution for your shorter span footbridge or light vehicle bridge needs. When you’re ready for a beam bridge quote, reach out to the Areté Structures team.