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Testing Lab for Bridge Design Debuts

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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With twice the weight of a legal tractor-trailer at 17,000 passes per 24 hours, the BEAST is something most bridges would not want to mess with.

Researcher’s at a Rutgers lab say that’s the point of their invention that can simulate traffic, weather and other conditions that affect the structural integrity—and lifespan—of a bridge. Its creators hope the Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing (BEAST) lab will help design bridges that are stronger and last longer.

“In the past the bridge community didn’t have the ability to accurately predict the future performance of individual structures or the complete bridge system,” said Robert Clark, division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, in a recent article in New Jersey Advance Media.

Photos: Rutgers University

The BEAST can simulate traffic and environmental conditions that a bridge normally endures over 15 to 20 years in just a few months, its designers say.

“The good news? That was yesterday,” he said. “Today we have the BEAST.”

Addressing the Problem

Designed by the Center for Advance Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) at Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, the BEAST made its first public appearance on Oct. 14.

According to the lab’s website, the BEAST measures stresses and deterioration caused by extreme traffic and environmental conditions that a bridge normally would endure over a long period of time. But the BEAST is designed to compress that time from 15 to 20 years of wear into a few months.

“We could essentially create temperatures in Alaska or we can create temperatures that are very similar to Florida,” Andrés Roda, a CAIT research engineer, told New Jersey Advance Media. “We’ll be able to go ahead and replicate that and come up with different scenarios for different bridges in different zones.”

According to the FHWA's Bridge Preservation Guide that was printed in 2011, more than 30 percent of U.S. bridges have exceeded their 50-year design life. The CAIT lab says rebuilding the 63,000-plus bridges that are structurally deficient is not only financially impossible, but logistically impossible, too.

The BEAST's loading cart makes more than 17,000 passes on a bridge testing surface in 24 hours.

The idea behind the BEAST, they say, is to be able to design bridges that will last longer while also providing answers about the best way to repair existing infrastructure.

By the Numbers

According to the CAIT lab, the BEAST consists of an environmental chamber that can accommodate a bridge test section of up to 50 feet by 28 feet. It also has a “loading” device that simulates a truck chassis.

The loading cart carries with it up to 60,000 pounds and runs around the clock at 20 miles per hour. Meanwhile, environmental freeze-thaw conditions are simulated to fluctuate between temperatures of 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Salt brine also is added into the testing mix.

It’s entire list of testing capabilities can be found here on the BEAST’s website.

CAIT does not say how much the BEAST cost to produce. However, it does say that building the machine took 17 months working in collaboration with Applied Research Associates in Vermont.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Research; Roads/Highways

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