State engineers found ways to design and build bridges quickly and efficiently to meet the demands of a large state highway system. The state’s first two Chief Bridge Engineers, William L. Craven (1917-1944) and T.B. Gunter, Jr. (1945-1960), adopted standardized plans and written specifications that could be readily applied to the most common span lengths and roadway widths. Standardization was not a new idea. It had been employed by railroad companies beginning in the mid-19th century and was in common usage by many highway departments across the country by the 1910s. Inasmuch as standardized bridge plans were neither innovative nor varied, they were generally more economical, using commonly available materials and well-tried bridge types and designs whose qualities and costs were known. They were also particularly well suited to North Carolina because there were few large rivers needing specialized long-span or movable bridges. Some standardized bridge designs, for example plans adopted for reinforced-concrete tee-beam and slab bridges in 1919, served as prototypes for spans built across North Carolina for over 40 years.
William L. Craven, North Carolina's first Chief Bridge Engineer, had as much as any individual to do with shaping the state's standardized approach to bridge design and construction. He was born in Concord, North Carolina in 1878 and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural & Mechanical College (now North Carolina State University) with a civil engineering degree in 1901. After working for several bridge-building companies, Craven joined the State Highway Commission in 1917 and soon recruited to its Bridge Department a dedicated force of young engineers, many of whom would spend their entire careers there. (These included his successor, T.B. Gunter, Jr., who came to the Commission upon receiving his civil engineering degree from the University of North Carolina in 1921.) Their approach to bridge design was conservative, using mostly well-tried and economical bridge types that gave the state good value and allowed the benefits of improved bridges to be spread to all corners of the state. Between 1920 and 1929, the State Bridge Commission designed each year an average of about 200 new bridges that were 20-feet-long or longer and 800 culverts of less than a 20-foot span.