What Do Bridge Operators Do?

Explore the career requirements for bridge operators. Get the facts about job responsibilities, training requirements and salary information to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Bridge Operator?

A bridge operator is in charge of the operations of a bridge. Depending on the bridge, they may turn traffic signals on and off to allow vehicles and pedestrians to pass. They may also raise or lower drawbridges so that both cars and water vessels can pass. In the event of an accident on the bridge, they prepare accident reports and submit requests for repairs if necessary. In addition, bridge operators may be responsible for performing routine inspections and maintenance tasks like repainting or electrical system troubleshooting.

The following table provides a detailed overview for this career:

Education Required High school diploma or GED
Training Required On-the-job training, vocational training (recommended)
Education Field of Study Electrical systems or heavy equipment maintenance
Key Responsibilities Operate & maintain bridge equipment, inspect mechanical equipment, direct traffic, replace bridge parts
Job Growth (2014-24) -1% (bridge & lock tenders)*
Median Salary (2015) $48,420 (bridge & lock tenders)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine

What Would I Do as a Bridge Operator?

In general, it is a bridge operator's job to make sure ships, cars and pedestrians get under or over bridges safely by operating and maintaining bridge equipment. Operating a bridge requires you to perform a number of corresponding tasks, including raising and lowering bridge spans, communicating with ships by radio or visual signals, clearing pedestrians and vehicles, estimating how fast ships are approaching and operating warning devices. To do this, you need to have a handle on a variety of equipment, such as weather instruments, intercoms, scanners, malfunction indicators and closed circuit televisions.

Additionally, you'll be in charge of much of the maintenance work for bridges. For example, you might become familiar with technical schematics and manuals for several types of bridges in order to troubleshoot their drive systems. Other maintenance responsibilities could include the following:

  • Maintaining and repairing electrical wiring
  • Inspecting mechanical equipment
  • Replacing operating cables, sidewalks, road gates or bridge decking
  • Maintaining electrical equipment, gas detectors and power supplies
  • Directing traffic
  • Lubricating lifting and operating machinery
  • Removing snow and ice from surfaces

You would also be responsible for some administrative work. In bridge operations, this usually means keeping maintenance records and documenting any accidents involving bridge traffic.

What Training Do I Need?

It's possible to secure a job as a bridge operator with a high school diploma or its equivalent since much of the training takes place on the job. However, you might improve your job prospects with at least some postsecondary or vocational training in electrical systems or heavy equipment maintenance. The following are examples of certificate and associate degree programs you could enroll in relevant to bridge operations:

  • Electronics
  • Electrical engineering technology
  • Heavy equipment operation
  • Fluid power technology

Knowledge of mechanics, welding, metalworking, plumbing or carpentry could also improve your chances of getting a job. Other valuable skills might include CPR, first aid and fire prevention.

What Kind of Money Could I Make?

Salaries for bridge operators can vary by location and experience. According to O*NET OnLine, the U.S. Department of Labor's career database, operators of bridges and locks made a median salary of $48,520 as of May 2015 (www.onetonline.org). Federal, local and state government agencies were the main employers of bridge tenders, and employment was expected to show little or no change from 2014-2024, per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in mechanical operations, you might also be interested in a job as a crane operator. You could work at a construction site, where you would use the crane to lift and move heavy materials and equipment, or you could work at a port, where you would use the crane to move cargo on and off the ship. For this job, you need to have at least a high school diploma. Alternatively, if you would rather get a job related to traffic coordination, you could consider becoming an air traffic controller at an airport. In this job, you would coordinate airplane takeoffs and landings, as well as ground traffic moving baggage vehicles and airport workers between destinations. Air traffic controllers need to have at least an associate's degree.

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