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Radar Looks Inside Tunnel Wall

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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An alternate method of inspecting the integrity of concrete tunnel walls was demonstrated in Pittsburgh last week as part of a program that finds strategic solutions to national transportation challenges.

Contractors and highway officials from across the country were on hand to witness the operation of equipment that evaluates tunnel conditions quickly and without causing damage to structure, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

While one method involved an electronic hammer that records sound waves to determine subsurface conditions, the method that got the most attention was one that uses ground-penetrating radar to look behind the outermost concrete layer.

A Fast, 180-Degree Analysis

The Penetradar Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) technology demonstrated in Pittsburgh’s Liberty Tunnel Sept. 14 is an automated radar-based system for high-speed, non-destructive surveys, according to its manufacturer, Penetradar Corporation of Niagara Falls, NY.

Contractors and highway officials were treated to a demonstration of a tunnel inspection performed by a vehicle equipped with ground penetrating radar.

The company touts its Integrated Radar Inspection System-equipped vehicles as a turnkey solution to GPR inspection of highway pavement, bridge decks, runways and tunnels, as well as for a number of general site inspection applications.

As the Penetradar van drove through the Pittsburgh tunnel, its antenna reportedly sent signals into the wall looking for echoes and other reflections that would indicate interior conditions such as weak spots and water leaks.

Designed for use at speeds of 60 mph, the radar delivered a 180-degree evaluation of the whole tunnel in just a matter of hours, the local paper said.

Speed vs. Expense

The speeding up of the inspection process would benefit commuters and transportation workers alike, transportation officials noted, as the time needed for full shutdowns would be greatly decreased or eliminated altogether and worker safety would increase.

Whereas the conventional manual inspection methods would require time for inspectors to sound the walls and often involve drilling, a regular tunnel inspection could be done in one night with the electronic method, they said.

But that shortened timeline comes with an expensive tradeoff. Whereas an inspection by hammer method might cost around $51,000, the electronic method is said to run at about $100,000.

Still, the speed could make it more appealing to transportation departments in the future, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District Bridge Engineer Lou Ruzzi said.

The technology is said to be new and so is not yet in ordinary use.

The demonstration was part of the Strategic Highway Research Program, which seeks to find new ways to improve highway safety, reduce congestion, and improve methods for renewing roads and bridges.

The program is overseen by the Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.


Tagged categories: AASHTO; concrete; Concrete defects; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Infrastructure; Inspection; Inspection equipment; North America; Quality Control; Transportation; Tunnel

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