A Revolution in Bridge Repair

Today’s infrastructure is in disrepair, particularly our bridges. The issue, discussed in my previous post entitled The Age of Disrepair, has become a hot topic for discussion. As a result, research is being conducted across North America to develop new systems to find economical and environmentally friendly solutions.

Hannah Loring is a Civil Engineering graduate student at the University of Maine. Her research, under Professor Bill Davids, is focused on repairing the countries ageing bridge infrastructure. One of the major concerns with older bridges is weight capacity, as they were originally designed to withstand smaller, less frequent truck loads.

A proposed solution is posting weight limits on the bridges.  This will however cause traffic congestion. Alternatively, researchers at the University of Maine are developing a new product called a ‘polymer reinforced flexural retrofit system’.  This system uses strips of carbon and glass composites which are installed to the undersides of bridge decks using adhesive and concrete screws. The system increases the flexural capacity and lifespan of the bridge (Bangor News Report).

This product has the potential to revolutionize the way bridges are retrofitted. Professor Bill Davids suggests, “We’re giving a low-cost alternative for the short term that would increase the strength and durability of the bridge, prevent it from having weight [limits] posted, and allow the bridge to remain safe”. A typical deck replacement for a flat-slab bridge costs over $120,000. Using the composite strips, this can be reduced down to about $70,000. In addition, concrete beams reinforced with the polymer strips exhibit an increase in load carrying capacity from 15,000 lbs to 21,000 lbs (Bangor News Report). This research was presented at a recent press conference.

Press Conference Video

“Band-Aids” Aren’t Always The Right Solution

In some cases a full replacement of the bridge is required. Acrow Bridge, a company based out of the United States, specializes in prefabricated modular steel bridge solutions for permanent, temporary and emergency use. Acrow’s website claims that, “Through the simple addition of prefabricated modular steel bridge components, Acrow bridges are easily customized to the desired length, width and strength, allowing for diverse applications and uses”.

Acrow’s Temporary Bridge Being Used Adjacent to the Construction of a New Bridge. Photo Credit: Acrow Bridge

Acrow prefabricates the temporary bridge off-site, allowing for a quick assembly and minimal traffic disturbance. In addition, each section of these bridges can be re-used for different projects. Not only is this environmentally friendly, but it drastically reduces the overall cost. The product has been a huge success thus far. Bill Killeen, CEO of Acrow, said, “Consequently, more and more customers are expanding their inventory of modular steel bridges to deal with both emergency and scheduled repair work”.

There is no perfect solution for deteriorating bridges. However, with each passing day the process for repairing our bridges is being refined. If cities continue to take an active role in repairing bridge infrastructure using these technologies, bridge collapses may become a thing of the past.

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