Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul, Minn.

‘High Bridge’ study yields insights on bridge deck maintenance

One of St. Paul’s most iconic landmarks is helping the Minnesota Department of Transportation find the most cost-effective methods of maintaining concrete bridge decks.

For the last three years, the Smith Avenue High Bridge, which connects downtown St. Paul with the city’s west side, has served as a test bed for a variety of products used to seal cracks on bridge decks. Through MnDOT-funded research, various sealant products have been applied on different areas of the bridge deck, with their performance tracked over time.

“This project will help MnDOT make cost-effective maintenance decisions to preserve its current bridge infrastructure,” said Sarah Sondag, a senior engineer with MnDOT Bridge Operations Support.

The bridge was chosen in part because of its large deck area, which allowed for the application of 12 sealant products and three control sections.

Sealing deck cracks is a routine preventive maintenance task for bridge crews. Left untreated, cracks can allow moisture and chlorides to penetrate the bridge deck, which can lead to the corrosion of reinforcing steel, deck deterioration and the need for early deck replacement.

researcher testing permeability of a deck crack on the Smith Avenue Bridge
A researcher tests the permeability of a crack on the deck of the Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul.

MnDOT maintains a list of approved bridge deck crack sealing products, but until now had little data on how well each one performs in the field. The recently published report also examined several products that are not currently on the Approved Products List.

Among the study’s findings: some of the products on MnDOT’s Approved Products List did not perform as well as other products that are not currently on the list. MnDOT is using the results of the study to update its qualification process for products to get on the approved list. Insights gained from studying application techniques will also be used to update MnDOT’s bridge maintenance manual.

*Note: This blog post was adapted from an article and technical summary that will be featured in the upcoming issue of the Accelerator newsletter.

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