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Team Evaluates Early-Age Bridge Deck Cracks

Friday, November 4, 2016

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Pennsylvania is reportedly home to more than 22,000 bridges, many of which are aging and in need of repair.

Through a collaboration between Penn State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), researchers are working to identify the main factors contributing to premature bridge deck cracking on the state’s spans, the school announced Monday (Oct. 31).

underside of bridge
Photos: Penn State

Researchers at Penn State University, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), are analyzing premature deck cracking on a number of the state’s bridges in an effort to help improve the long-term durability of the structures.

Premature cracking of the bridge deck is considered a primary cause of early bridge deterioration, according to the researchers. These cracks significantly decrease the durability and service life of the bridge, and enable chlorides and moisture to penetrate into the concrete, leading to accelerated corrosion of the steel reinforcement, they say.

The team, composed of Aleksandra Radlinska, assistant professor of civil engineering, with associate professors Farshad Rajabipour and Gordon Warn, expect their two-part study will deliver practical data to a subject area where, they say, information is currently limited.

Evaluation Process, Findings

According to the Federal Highway Administration's 2015 National Bridge Inventory, 21 percent of Pennsylvania’s 22,783 bridges are considered structurally deficient; another 19 percent are classified as functionally obsolete.

Of these, the researchers evaluated 203 bridge decks to identify the main factors that contribute to early-age cracking and to assess the effects of cracks on the long-term durability of bridge decks.

As a first step, they sent a survey to 71 key PennDOT employees representing the design, construction, bridge inspection and materials units. Through the survey, they wanted to collect and document details about the employees’ experience with early-age cracking as it relates to long-term bridge deck performance.

core sampling

Researchers collected core samples for the study to help identify the key factors that contribute to premature cracking in concrete bridge decks.

Next, they collected and analyzed inspection data from newly constructed and older concrete bridge decks. The team inspected 40 existing concrete bridge decks and obtained 19 core samples from the decks, which were analyzed at Penn State laboratories.

As part of this second phase, PennDOT crack inspections from 163 newly constructed bridge decks were also summarized and analyzed.

According to the university, the researchers determined that:

  • Higher concrete strength was associated with higher deck crack density;
  • Lower total cement-based materials and higher Portland cement replacement with supplementary materials resulted in less cracking;
  • Decks constructed with half-width procedures cracked four times more than decks constructed with full-width procedures; and
  • Epoxy-coated rebar was effective in resisting corrosion, even in cracked concrete and at the location of cracks.

Bridge Deck Database

The information collected also enabled the team to create a deck performance database for PennDot, which would collect all relevant bridge deck information in a central location and have it available for ongoing and future research needs, Radlinska said.

"The database will store key information related to bridge design and construction, including the type of bridge, along with the support, span, length and traffic pattern during its construction," she explained.

field data

Researchers Luis Ramirez and Amir Manafpour went out in the field to collect data at one of the state's bridges.

The bridge deck performance database will also aid in developing detailed deterioration models that will help predict the future performance and service lives of concrete bridge decks and improve the maintenance costs over their lifespans, according to the school.

"There is no one solution to fix it all," Radlinska said. "Every bridge is different, so we have a lot of data points that connect to specific models which will allow PennDOT to determine the best remediation strategies for these deteriorated bridges."

Additional Details

The results of the study were published earlier this year in the Transportation Research Board’s Transportation Research Record Journal.

Additional researchers in this study included graduate students Travis Hopper and Amir Manafpour; and collaborators Parisa Shokouhi, associate professor of civil engineering, and Ilgin Guler, assistant professor of civil engineering.

Partners included Quality Engineering Solutions' Dennis Morian, director of engineering, and Shervin Jahangirnejad, senior project manager.

PennDOT’s Robert Watral served as a technical advisor.

The state’s transportation department also provided funding for their work.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Cement; Colleges and Universities; concrete; Corrosion; Cracks; Department of Transportation (DOT); Epoxy; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); North America; Quality Control; Rebar; Research; Steel

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