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Building Bridges to a Safer Society

John R. Hillman discusses how building bridges using the Hybrid-Composite Beam leads to a safer society for future generations.

John R. HillmanJohn R. Hillman is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts as a leader in transportation.

I became a civil engineer because I love building things. I gravitated towards bridges, because literally and figuratively I get to help people stay connected. I never dreamed that I would get this type of recognition just for doing what I enjoy. I am both honored and humbled to be included in the distinguished company of the other White House Champions of Change.

In our fast paced culture, consumed by and constantly connected to computer technology, transportation infrastructure can appear unsophisticated, and most people take what we do for granted, myself included. However, by virtue of what we do every day as civil engineers, we are responsible for creating the infrastructure that provides for a safer, more comfortable, and more peaceful civilization. Our chosen profession also comes with huge responsibilities, and the fear of failure can easily become an obstacle to embracing change. Regardless, beginning in 1996, I sought to create a better and more sustainable method of building bridges through the invention of the Hybrid-Composite Beam.

The “Hybrid-Composite Beam” (HCB®), is a new type of structural member developed for use in highway bridges, railroad bridges, and other structures. In essence, the HCB is a tied-arch of concrete and steel contained in a composite shell that optimizes the structural performance of each material in the composition. What results is an economical structural member that offers service lives in excess of one hundred years and that is lighter weight, safer, corrosion resistant, and all around more sustainable than structures of conventional materials. It took over twelve years of painstaking research and development before the first HCB Bridge was constructed, but today there are over twenty-four spans in seven different states. Now I am contacted on a daily basis by engineers and infrastructure owners from all corners of the globe who want to build HCB Bridges in their respective countries.

Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. Throughout our national bridge inventory, one in nine bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently forty-two years. In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, ASCE gave the nation’s bridges a C+. While this is an improvement, challenges still remain. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. My goal with the invention and development of the HCB is to provide a revolutionary bridge technology that not only remedies the state of our decaying bridges, but also provides a solution to this problem that will reduce the burden of infrastructure rehabilitation costs for future generations.

I am grateful for the recognition that I have received for the development of the HCB and I feel very fortunate for the opportunities that have been afforded me as a result. Building innovative bridges has proven to be a very fulfilling profession. The places that I have traveled to and the people that I have met along the way continue to make for an amazing odyssey. By the very definition of our profession, it is our legacy to create a better civilization. I hope that my journey, fueled by a passion for innovation and creativity, will inspire future generations of civil engineers to reinvent the built environment.

John R. Hillman, is Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of HCB, Inc.