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NCDOT, NC State working to improve bridge lifespan

The North Carolina Department of Transportation and North Carolina State University are teaming up to improve the longevity of bridges across the state.

“This is very cutting-edge technology,” NCDOT Research and Development Manager Neil Mastin said. “Around the country, this is a fairly unique product. I think there’s some potential.”

NCDOT has provided research students beams from two bridges. Their research includes designing and testing a retrofit system for deteriorating, pre-stressed concrete beams.

Army Lt. Col. Brad McCoy is part of that research team and a PhD candidate at NCSU. “(It’s a) collaboration to really address challenges that we have with critical infrastructure across the country,” McCoy said.

Earlier this month, NCSU’s research team had a final full-scale beam test with the retrofit solution installed. McCoy called the test “a success.”

“We’re going to test some other types of beams. This is only type that’s out there. We have many dozens of types of beams available at DOT. We’ll see what happens with some future research,” Mastin added.

In some cases, when a bridge needs repairs, NCDOT will restrict the weight limit for vehicles allowed on the bridge, which can impact industry and emergency services. A replacement bridge can also take months, even years to schedule and complete.

“This project with N.C. State includes an innovative use of carbon-fiber technology,” Mastin said. “It will help save tight transportation funds.”

Another goal with this research is to develop a retrofit solution that is practical and allow a crew to install the retrofit within a day and improve the strength of the bridge. While this is not a permanent solution, it could potentially add years to the life span of the bridge, enabling it to remain open with an increased weight limit until a permanent replacement can be budgeted, scheduled and completed.

“As the NCDOT Structures Management Unit would tell you, they’re looking for solutions. There’s always problems they need to solve, and I think there’s a lot of promise in this,” Mastin said.

The research at NCSU will continue for another year.

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