Small R&D project in West Virginia has big implications for civil works projects worldwide

EAST LYNN, W. Va.- When an inspection revealed corrosion-damaged piles weakened the utility of a 40-year-old bridge linking State Route 37 to a popular recreation site, authorities’ first concerns were for public safety. Visitors who long-enjoyed camping, boating, fishing, hiking and picnicking at the recreation site were inconvenienced by the safeguards implemented. Safeguards included reducing traffic on the bridge to one lane with two-way traffic, a speed limit of 10 miles per hour and a vehicle weight limit of six tons. In the deteriorating bridge, John Clarkson, a licensed professional engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District did not see an inconvenience, but rather an exciting opportunity. Clarkson’s structural engineering knowledge prompted him to explore using composites science to repair the bridge. Thanks to recent developments in composites technology and collaboration among USACE, West Virginia University, the National Science Foundation and Federal Highway Administration, the East Fork Bridge rehabilitation was completed this week, just in time for the 2014 recreation season.

“This project afforded USACE the opportunity to fix the bridge at one third the cost of traditional methods,” said Clarkson. “We funded research and development that can now be applied to other civil works projects globablly and partnered with world-renowned experts and graduate students from West Virginia University,” said Clarkson.

Not too shabby for a beloved little bridge in rural West Virginia.

Students from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at WVU and leading composites expert, Dr. Hota V. GangaRao P.E., of the university’s Constructed Facilities Center, as well as Rich Lampo, a materials engineer from the USACE Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, investigated and identified materials, including fibers, glass and glues, which could be used to develop a long-lasting, lower-cost solution to the bridge’s corroded piles problem.

“Some of the advantages to using composites beyond the substantial cost savings compared to more traditional methods include shorter construction schedules and longer-lasting repairs with less-maintenance required,” said Lampo.

Why not use composites in all civil works projects then? USACE is in the rigorous process of evaluating and validating the use of composites in various civil works projects, explained Lampo.

In a process similar to pilot programming, USACE is implementing composites, including fiber-reinforced polymers, in a few civil works projects nationwide as part of its ongoing R&D activities.
The rehabilitated East Fork Bridge is equipped with instrumentation that will allow researchers to collect data about the bridge’s use and wear.

“There are all kinds of applications for composites being used in structures, but there is some reluctance to use them with more frequency because we don’t have complete standards and specifications yet,” explained Lampo. “Once that guidance is in place, using composites in civil works projects will likely be much more commonplace.”

Praveen Majjigapu, 26, a graduate researcher and doctoral student at WVU who worked on the East Fork Bridge rehabilitation, said he is excited about what composites can do to improve the safety and utility of structures while lowering construction costs in the U.S. and abroad. A native of Uttar Pradesh, India, Majjigapu cited the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India, which killed approximately 25,000 people, destroyed nearly 400,000 structures and left nearly a million people homeless, as one of the reasons he chose to become a structural engineer. “We can build safer structures that are resistant to catastrophic failures, said Majjigapu. “We can reduce risks, reduce suffering and save lives.”

Small R&D rehabilitation projects like the East Fork Bridge repairs may have big implications for civil works projects everywhere.


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