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Study: New Bridge Maintenance Approach

Friday, May 14, 2021

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In a new study, researchers from the University of Georgia are suggesting a new way to prioritize bridge maintenance as a means to both save bridge owners money and extend the life of the infrastructure itself.

The technical paper, “Novel Prioritization Mechanism to Enhance Long-Term Performance Predictions for Bridge Asset Management,” was recently published in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities.

Maintenance Study

According to the study’s abstract, current strategies for prioritizing bridge preventive maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement (MRR) include predicting future conditions and involve using a depreciation formula. However, the dated formula is reported to result in overly conservative assessments of a bridge’s long-term health, which in turn, causes favorable replacement solutions over maintenance.

University of Georgia

In a new study, researchers from the University of Georgia are suggesting a new way to prioritize bridge maintenance as a means to both save bridge owners money and extend the life of the infrastructure itself.

The authors point out that these conservative conclusions are due to the fact that element interactions aren’t considered in quantifying bridge deterioration. In their study, the researchers from UGA’s College of Engineering propose a new model (a first for the current program) that leverages time-dependent element interactions, also known as coactiveness, in predicting bridge performance resulting from MRR activities.

Specifically, the approach considers the interaction of 60 to 80 bridge components in predicting long-term bridge performance and focuses on maintenance instead of replacement. By making one repair to one element—even one as small as an expansion joint—the authors hypothesize that the deterioration of other elements is then reduced, improving the overall health of the structure.

“Rather than considering a bridge as a monolithic structure, the bridge coactive model assesses a bridge as a system in which changes in the condition of each coactive element not only directly affects the overall bridge performance but indirectly influences the performance of the other dependent elements,” said Brian Oyegbile, one of the study’s authors. Oyegbile earned his Ph.D. in engineering from UGA in 2020 and currently works with the California Department of Transportation.

As an example of just one element, Oyegbile expanded on the replacement of a damaged bridge expansion joint. A typically inexpensive replacement, the expansion joints are noted to have marginal impacts on a bridge’s overall performance in the short term. However, if not replaced, salt from deicing or contaminated water can seep through a damaged expansion joint over time, which can accelerate the deterioration of more critical elements below, like a column or bridge deck.

For the study, researchers looked at data in the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory for Alabama, Florida and Georgia to build and test their model. The NBI database includes inspection reports on individual bridge elements, proving a wealth of information for the researchers.

“Prior to our work, we hadn’t seen a mathematical model that considers the interaction between bridge elements,” said Mi Geum Chorzepa, an associate professor and the study’s principal investigator. “We need a more realistic way to assess bridge conditions and prioritize preventive maintenance, particularly in such a challenging budget environment.”

In Georgia, they found that changes in the condition of expansion joints are most critical to the long-term performance of bridge elements. In Alabama, a bridge management strategy slows the depreciation of expansion joints when more MRR resources are allocated to its deck elements. And in Florida, it was discovered that early preventive maintenance is most effective in that it has similar effects in leveraging proposed prioritization mechanisms in enhancing long-term bridge performance.

Although bridges have an average 75-year lifespan, the UGA researchers claim that by employing their maintenance method to plan timely and efficient application of available resources, the infrastructure lifespan could be extended beyond 100 years.

“In my eyes, the co-activeness is apparent in the bridge inspection data and we can scientifically leverage data analytics in bridge service-life predictions, saving money for the country’s infrastructure maintenance and construction,” said Oyegbile.

As a result of their findings, the researchers estimate that a $10 billion investment in timely and appropriate preventive maintenance on the nation’s bridges over three years would generate $20 billion in recurring savings by 2024. For comparison, when the ASCE released its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card earlier this year, it called for $125 billion to fix the nation's backlog of bridge repair and that yearly spending on rehabilitation would increase from $14.4 billion to $22.7 billion, or by 58%, if conditions are to improve.

In an analysis by the American Road and Transportation Association, the estimated cost to repair all the structurally deficient bridges is $41.8 billion, based on average cost data published by USDOT.

The study was funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation, and a grant was recently approved for the researchers to expand their work. In the second phase of the project, the team will work with GDOT’s Offices of Transportation Data, Research and Bridge Maintenance to develop a bridge life-cycle assessment tool for use by GDOT and county governments across the state.

In addition to Oyegbile and Chorzepa, S. Sonny Kim, an associate professor, and Stephan Durham, a professor, both from the College of Engineering, were coauthors on the study and will continue research into phase two of the project.

Bridge Inspections

In related news, observed during the last week of April, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration celebrated the 50th anniversary of its National Bridge Inspection Standards.

According to the Administration, the NBIS program was officially adopted on April 27, 1971, after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in West Virginia, which claimed the lives the 46 people. With authority provided by Congress in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, the NBIS became first federal level bridge safety program.

The federal program is currently responsible for the protection of all highway bridges on public roads, totaling nearly 620,000 bridges. However, with that many structures, the program does rely heavily on its robust inventory of bridges, in addition to a schedule of regular and thorough inspections completed by trained inspectors.

These inspections are typically carried out by state departments of transportation once every 24 months and the results are reported to the FHWA regarding any potential structural problems early on and to ensure that maintenance efforts are being carried out successfully. The information is also used as data collection for the Administration’s inventory, which helps transportation officials make informed decisions about funding priorities.

During inspections, bridges and their various component parts—ranging from pilings to deck slabs—are checked for safety, any identifiable damages, deterioration or defects. If a structure is rated as potentially unsafe, the FHWA recommends immediate actions such as closures, prompt repairs or even load posting to restrict use by heavy vehicles.

Moving forward, the FHWA plans to continue to strengthen the program, by updating training requirements for bridge inspectors and replacing narrative bridge inspection summaries with specific assessment criteria to improve consistency.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Colleges and Universities; Department of Transportation (DOT); Maintenance programs; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Rehabilitation/Repair; Research; Research and development; Transportation

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