EAGER: SAI: Collaborative Research: Community-Driven Innovation for Resilient Bridges in Remote Communities

Project: Research project

Project Details


Strengthening American Infrastructure (SAI) is an NSF Program seeking to stimulate human-centered fundamental and potentially transformative research that strengthens America's infrastructure. Effective infrastructure provides a strong foundation for socioeconomic vitality and broad quality of life improvement. Strong, reliable, and effective infrastructure spurs private-sector innovation, grows the economy, creates jobs, makes public-sector service provision more efficient, strengthens communities, promotes equal opportunity, protects the natural environment, enhances national security, and fuels American leadership. To achieve these goals requires expertise from across the science and engineering disciplines. SAI focuses on how knowledge of human reasoning and decision making, governance, and social and cultural processes enables the building and maintenance of effective infrastructure that improves lives and society and builds on advances in technology and engineering.

Bridges have become increasingly critical for remote communities in northern latitudes. Residents frequently need to cross rivers or lakes to hunt and gather traditional foods as well as access schools, healthcare facilities, and other essential services that are typically available in regional hubs. Travel by boat is common during warmer months, while frozen water bodies serve as transportation corridors during winter. Temperatures in these regions are increasing rapidly, causing rivers to freeze later, thaw earlier, and form thinner ice. There have been concurrent increases in snowmobile fatalities related to unstable and unpredictable ice. Reliable bridges connect communities and provide safe transportation corridors to larger settlements, which not only support indigenous subsistence livelihoods and remote access to goods and services, but also reduce weather-related deaths and injuries. This project aims to understand the importance of bridges for the well-being of remote communities and to develop a protocol for other remote communities to work together to fund, construct, monitor, and maintain bridges. More generally, this project potentially demonstrates methods for efficient and cost-effective assessments of infrastructure condition in remote, rural areas.

Building and maintaining bridges in remote areas entails challenges common to both the social sciences and engineering. From a social science perspective, it is critical to understand how bridge construction impacts community well-being and how communities can work together effectively to secure the necessary financial resources for bridge construction. From an engineering perspective, critical infrastructure such as bridges is vulnerable to the effects of climate, including permafrost thawing and increased precipitation that accelerate corrosion, and rising sea levels that correspond with flooding. It is therefore essential to determine effective ways to monitor the stability and safety of a bridge after it is constructed. The researchers on this project examine three interconnected research questions. First, how does bridge construction affect subsistence activities, education, social ties, and health and safety? Second, how can drones be used effectively to monitor changes on a bridge? Third, how can communities effectively work together to identify and apply for bridge construction funding? The study is conducted in regions that vary in the success of recent efforts to fund and construct bridges. The researchers partner with local stakeholders to produce reports and recommendations that can benefit other bridge construction projects. The researchers use data from interviews and household surveys, complemented by the use of imagery from drones, which is collected on a biannual basis to monitor and evaluate long-term structural conditions. By combining perspectives from social science and engineering, the project demonstrates how infrastructure projects can align with local priorities. This alignment of resources becomes an ever-more pressing matter as the effects of long-term environmental change contribute to the degradation of critical transportation infrastructure. Additionally, this project engages local school districts to provide real-world learning opportunities for students and workforce development for teachers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/219/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $259,112.00


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