Because of the wide range of span length within which arch construction may be used (Art. 14.3), it is competitive with almost all other types of structures.
Comparison with Simple Spans. Simple-span girder or truss construction normally falls within the range of the shortest spans used up to a maximum of about 800 ft. Either true arches under favorable conditions or tied arches under all conditions are competitive within the range of 200 to 800 ft. (There will be small difference in cost between these two types within this span range.) With increasing emphasis on appearance of bridges, arches are generally selected rather than simple-span construction, except for short spans for which beams or girders may be used.
Comparison with Cantilever or Continuous Trusses. The normal range for cantilever or continuous-truss construction is on the order of 500 to 1800 ft for main spans. More likely, a top limit is about 1500 ft. Tied arches are competitive for spans within the range of 500 to 1000 ft. True arches are competitive, if foundation conditions are favorable, for spans from 500 ft to the maximum for the other types. The relative economy of arches, however, is enhanced where site conditions make possible use of relatively short-span construction over the areas covered by the end spans of the continuous or cantilever trusses.
The economic situation is approximately this: For three-span continuous or cantilever layouts arranged for the greatest economy, the cost per foot will be nearly equal for end and central spans. If a tied or true arch is substituted for the central span, the cost per foot may be more than the average for the cantilever or continuous types. If, however, relatively short spans are substituted for the end spans of these types, the cost per foot over the length of those spans is materially reduced. Hence, for a combination of short spans and a long arch span, the overall cost between end piers may be less than for the other types. In any case, the cost differential should not be large.
Comparison with Cable-Stayed and Suspension Bridges. Such structures normally are not used for spans of less than 500 ft. Above 3000 ft, suspension bridges are probably the most practical solution. In the shorter spans, self-anchored construction is likely to be more economical than independent anchorages. Arches are competitive in cost with the self-anchored suspension type or similar functional type with cable-stayed girders or trusses. There has been little use of suspension bridges for spans under 1000 ft, except for some self-anchored spans. For spans above 1000 ft, it is not possible to make any general statement of comparative costs. Each site requires a specific study of alternative designs.