This paper provides a summary of ongoing research sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that seeks to improve inspection practices for steel bridges by providing the technology and methodology for real-time monitoring. In order to reduce the time and cost of installing a monitoring system, the research team elected to use wireless communications within the sensor network. The investigation considered both IEEE 802.11 and IEEE 802.15.4 communications protocols and identified the latter as more practical for bridge monitoring applications. Studies were conducted to investigate possible improvements in the network performance using high-gain antennas. Results from experiments conducted outside and on bridges with different antennas are presented in this paper. Although some benefits were observed using high-gain antennas, the inconsistent performance and higher cost relative to the current stock, omni-directional antennas does not justify their use.© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.