Category Archives: Bridges and Structures

Using Debonded Strands to Reduce End Stress in Bridge Beams

A new MnDOT-funded research study has found that most agencies in states with weather similar to Minnesota’s use debonded strands in prestressed concrete bridge beams. MnDOT may begin piloting debonding as an alternative to draping, which manufacturers claim is time-consuming, challenging to worker safety and expensive.

What Was the Need?

Bridge designers often prestress concrete beams with steel strands to improve the performance of the beams. The strands precompress the beams so that when external loads like vehicle traffic are applied, the concrete is less likely to crack under loading.

When the beams are fabricated, the strands are stretched from one end of the concrete form to the other, and then concrete is poured and hardens around the stretched cable. Once the concrete is cured, the cables are released from the precasting bed. When the cables shorten, they shorten or squeeze the concrete they are bonded to in the beam, precompressing it.

Because concrete is effective in compression and poor in tension (it cracks), precompressing the concrete leads to beams that may not crack in service conditions. It also leads to less deflection of the beams under loading. Both outcomes improve the strength, serviceability and durability of the system.

“We were assessing the current state of the practice of debonding strands in prestressed concrete, learning what other agencies have done and how much success they’ve had,” said Catherine French, CSE distinguished professor, University of Minnesota Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering.

Prestressing causes high stress at beam ends, which is conventionally mitigated with some combination of two common design approaches. Cables can be debonded at the ends, typically by using a sleeve of a limited length that prevents concrete from directly bonding with the strands where covered. Draping strands can also help with end stresses by reducing the eccentricity of the strands. While regular strands run parallel to the length of the beam, draped strands are pulled in a somewhat V-shape, from the top of the beam at each end to the bottom of the beam in the middle.

MnDOT currently uses draping to relieve the end stresses, but it does not allow debonding due to its potential to provide a path for chlorides to enter the concrete along the debonding tubes, which could lead to corrosion. Manufacturers would like to rely less on draping, which requires more time, cost and care to safely fabricate. Local agencies are interested in debonding because draping requires thicker and more expensive concrete beams. National standards offer the choice of draping, debonding or a combination of both.

What Was Our Goal?

Researchers investigated the state of the practice for using debonded strands in prestressed concrete beams. MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board (LRRB) needed recommendations for using debonded strands to position the agency to adopt current and imminent national debonding standards for prestressed beams and to use debonding as an alternative to draping, where appropriate. 

What Did We Do?

Researchers studied current MnDOT prestressing specifications, prestressing and debonding guidelines established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and research on debonding and draping. They also surveyed 11 agencies in 10 states with climates similar to Minnesota’s about their use of debonding and its performance in terms of reducing beam end stresses and resisting corrosion. They followed up with some respondents to gather more detail on respondents’ practices and experience.

Debonding sleeves protect prestressing strands from bonding with concrete, reducing stress and cracking at beam ends. 

Plastic sheathing is wrapped around a portion of bonded prestressing strands.
In addition to conducting the survey, the research team met with two fabricators who produce MnDOT prestressed concrete beams to review prestressing, debonding and draping procedures, and visited the plants to observe the process.

What Did We Learn?

Debonding appears to reduce cracking at beam ends. Currently, AASHTO allows debonding of up to 25 percent of prestressing strands in concrete beams, though this may soon be revised to allow a higher debonding limit. AASHTO’s T-10 Technical Committee proposes allowing up to 45 percent debonding, while NCHRP Research Report 849 recommends allowing up to 60 percent of strands be debonded.

“Researchers did not find that there was any excessive corrosion with debonded strands. The team is recommending we start at debonding 40 percent of prestressed strands,” said Brian Homan, State Aid bridge plans engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.

Ten of the 11 responding agencies use debonding, typically in coordination with sealing beam ends with silicone or similar material to protect sleeved cables from water and salt intrusion. Five of the 10 reported debonding as their primary method for reducing end stresses, and three indicated draping as their favored approach. Six limit debonding to 25 percent of strands, though others allow a higher percentage, including Michigan DOT, which allows up to 40 percent of the strands to be debonded. Respondents reported few problems with debonded strands.

Researchers recommend that MnDOT begin debonding up to 40 percent of its strands to refine the practice before it considers adopting the 60 percent standard. Two split sheath tubes, one over the other, should be applied to the strands to achieve debonding in the end regions.

Concrete ends should be sealed as MnDOT currently requires, and silicone sealant should be applied to exposed strand ends. The research team recommended a sequence for releasing prestressing cable to minimize cracking at the beam ends—bonded before debonded and shorter debonded lengths before longer lengths.

What’s Next?

Debonding strands costs less than draping and is favored by local agencies; the practice will reduce prestressed beam fabrication costs for MnDOT and the LRRB. Draping procedures present safety concerns that will be relieved by a reduction in draping, and debonding is expected to reduce end cracking.

MnDOT is developing two pilot projects in which up to 45 percent debonding may be used. Future research may be warranted to identify the best percentage of strands that should be debonded and evaluate debonding sleeve materials, designs and performance.

This post pertains to Report 2019-30, “Debonded Strands in Prestressed Concrete Bridge Girders,” published July 2019. For more information, visit the MnDOT project page.

Study Underway to Harness Renewable Energy from Minnesota’s Highways

Sound barriers and snow fences along highways have the potential to provide clean energy in Minnesota.

A newly funded MnDOT study, Harnessing Solar Energy through Noise Barriers and Structural Snow Fencing, is investigating how to utilize existing noise barriers and snow fences on Minnesota highways to harvest clean, cost-effective energy.

“Snow fences and noise walls are structural barriers with a singular purpose. Snow fences are intended to limit snow from drifting onto our highways and noise walls are intended to reduce noise to a comfortable level for communities living near our highways. Finding a way to integrate solar that maintains their structural integrity could transform the use of these barriers from single purpose to multi-purpose,” says Dan Gullickson, MnDOT’s Blowing Snow Control Shared Services Program Supervisor, who is overseeing the research project.

Solar energy is energy captured from the sun and converted into thermal or electrical energy. It is a clean and abundant renewable energy source and generally requires very little maintenance after installation. Solar energy has a variety of uses, including providing electricity to power street lamps and homes, heating and cooling spaces, and heating water.

“We’ve seen some applications of solar panels on noise walls—primarily in European countries—but the addition of solar panels to snow fences is an entirely new concept,” says Gullickson.

The innovative nature of this project brings many unknowns that MnDOT hopes to answer, such as: Is it possible to engineer these structures without disrupting their functionality? What safety measures need to be taken to ensure the public and MnDOT workers stay safe if they come into contact with the panels? What are the lifecycle costs of installing and maintaining solar? How much energy could they generate and how does that connect with existing power grids?

One estimate shows that a thousand miles of solar panels could power all the street lights along Minnesota highways or 43,333 residential homes. (Assuming each solar panel is 330W and 1,000 panels could generate up to 330kW per mile.)

Harnessing solar energy on Minnesota highways: Solar energy can be used for heating, cooling, lighting, and warming water. 1,000 miles of solar panels on Minnesota highways could power: All of minnesota highway lights o 43,333 residential homes.

“We know Minnesota and North Dakota winters bring a lot of snow—which is disruptive to our travelers and farmers. We hope to create a sustainable solution that aids drivers and farmers, but also harnessing energy which would be able to offset the cost of construction and installation,” says Mijia Yang from North Dakota State University, the lead researcher.

Gullickson and a diverse team of MnDOT experts – from the field of environmental stewardship to traffic engineering – will guide the research and review findings.

The study will include surveys, lab testing or modeling of possible design options and a cost-benefit analysis—planned to be completed by of June 2021.

Currently, the research team is developing surveys to better understand public opinion on solar energy (including energy prices and solar panel infrastructure), power companies’ interest in purchasing solar energy generated through the right-of-way and legal considerations for harvesting solar energy through the rights-of-way.

 “Surveying the public and utility providers may uncover questions that we hadn’t previously anticipated. We hope to address those hurdles throughout the study,” says Gullickson. Follow along for project updates on MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation website.

Using Chemical Adhesives to Post-Install Epoxy-Coated Rebar in Concrete

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) had suspended the use of post-installed epoxy-coated rebar for concrete barrier repairs as a precautionary measure because chemical adhesives used in the process are not designed for use with coated bars. But laboratory testing (conducted in a recent MnDOT-sponsored research study) has now shown that using these adhesives with coated rebar for post-installation works well and provides a safety level 200 to 300 times that predicted by manufacturer specifications. MnDOT is considering research recommendations to modify the installation process in order to resume using coated rebar in post-installed concrete crash barriers.

What Was the Need?

As bridges age, local and state agencies are called on to repair and upgrade elements. Local agencies may install new light posts and replace chain-link rails, while state agencies may replace slabs on wing walls, deck and crash barriers, and other non-hanging bridge components. Work like this requires replacing concrete elements and installing new reinforcement bars. Until recently, MnDOT and local agencies used epoxy-coated steel rebar for these post-installed concrete panels and barriers.

Epoxy-coated rebar resists corrosion from salt and water that penetrate concrete members, especially at seams and cracks. Post-installed rebar requires chemical adhesives to secure the bar in place to effectively transfer loads from one concrete slab to another. Manufacturers test these adhesives with standard uncoated steel rebar to provide users with application guidance and to give engineers data on the tensile pullout strength of the rebar in concrete, a key property in the design of concrete bridge components.

As with many bridge materials, specifications for adhesives are conservative; the tensile strength of chemically adhered rebar can be assumed to be much higher than specified. Despite the almost certain safety of the practice, the MnDOT Bridge Office suspended the use of epoxy-coated rebar in post-installation applications because manufacturer specifications are based only on results from testing with uncoated rebar.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to determine the effect of the epoxy coating on the tensile strength of rebar that is post-installed with a chemical adhesive. To achieve this goal, researchers surveyed other state transportation agencies to determine how these agencies use epoxy-coated rebar in certain post-installation practices. In addition, the research team conducted laboratory evaluations of common adhesives and epoxy-coated rebar installed in hardened concrete.

“The point of epoxy-coated rebar is to gain a longer life cycle. While MnDOT practices were not unsafe, there are ways the agency could be more accurate.”—Ben Dymond, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Civil Engineering

What Did We Do?

Two post-installation applications were studied: crash barriers between bridge support piers and crash barriers on the edges of bridge decks. Investigators distributed a survey to all 50 state transportation agencies to learn the state of the practice related to postinstalling epoxy-coated rebar with chemical adhesives in hardened concrete bridge elements. The research team also studied MnDOT procedures for using adhesives with epoxy-coated and uncoated rebar during post-installation of rebar in crash barriers.

Investigators then conducted a laboratory study of the four most common adhesives used in Minnesota. They installed six uncoated lengths of rebar for each adhesive in one concrete slab and six epoxy-coated lengths of rebar for each adhesive in another slab. Rebar was pulled from the concrete to determine the tensile strength. 

In tests of adhesives and
reinforcement steel,
epoxy-coated rebar and
uncoated rebar showed
high pullout strength
when extracted from a
concrete test slab.
Two lengths of uncoated rebar (black) and two lengths of epoxy-coated rebar (green).

What Did We Learn?

Thirty states responded to the survey. Twelve of these state agencies do not use epoxy-coated rebar post-installed with chemical adhesives in concrete. Eleven of the 18 agencies that do use epoxy-coated rebar in these applications employ manufacturers’ data on bond strength; another six use a standard, national calculation method. 

Tensile pullout strength of the bars varied by adhesive type. In all cases, the manufacturer specifications for strength were very conservative and safe, identifying strength values 200 to 300 times lower than shown in laboratory tests. MnDOT’s approach to adhering epoxy-coated and uncoated reinforcement steel in hardened concrete barriers results in safe, reliable bonding and load transfer. 

The difference in strength between chemically adhered epoxy-coated steel and uncoated steel bars was on the order of 10 percent; in some cases, coated rebar was slightly stronger with the tested adhesive. Below are the pullout strength ratios of epoxy-coated bars to uncoated bars (reduced by three standard deviations) for the four adhesives:

  • Powers AC100+ Gold: 0.89.
  • Red Head A7+:1.02.
  • ATC Ultrabond 365CC: 0.98.
  • Hilti HIT-RE 500 V3: 1.11. (In this case, however, bars ruptured, and pullout strength was not definitively established.) 

Researchers recommended a modification factor for calculating bond strength to reflect the findings. Investigators also recommended changing a MnDOT bond stress specification or adopting manufacturer values, which would better meet national specifications for bridge design. 

“After exploring the epoxy-coated rebar practices of other states, we identified a difference in the installation design with epoxy-coated bars and uncoated bars.”—Joe Black, Senior Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office 

What’s Next?

Although MnDOT is not currently considering the use of epoxy-coated rebar in post-installed concrete, this study suggests what steps may be necessary to reauthorize its use in these applications. One solution would be to specify longer epoxy-coated rebar to mitigate the minor potential loss in pullout strength, allowing bridge managers to leverage the corrosion-resistance benefit of epoxy-coated rebar in these applications. 

A researcher uses a dust-collecting drill to ensure clean insertion of rebar in concrete.
A researcher uses a dust-collecting drill to ensure clean insertion of rebar in concrete. 

This post pertains to Report 2019-07, “Anchorage of Epoxy-Coated Rear Using Chemical Adhesives,”  published February 2019. For more information, visit MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation project page.

Epoxy-Coated Rebar Bridge Decks Outperform Mixed Rebar Decks

Bridge decks reinforced with one layer of epoxy-coated rebar and a bottom layer of uncoated steel rebar show corrosion damage sooner than decks constructed with all epoxy-coated rebar. Inspection methods should be enhanced to add a rating for cracking density on the underside of bridge decks. Repairs to mixed rebar decks should be conducted once a key deck surface inspection element has received a condition rating of two and held that rating for seven years, which is sooner than the average repair time of 8.5 years.

What Was the Need?

In concrete bridge decks, steel reinforcing bars are necessary to add tensile strength and transfer loads to beams. Additionally, steel reinforcement in concrete bridge decks is designed to control cracking, which will extend the service life of the bridge.  

Steel also corrodes in salt environments, even when embedded in concrete. Water and road deicing chemicals can reach the steel and damage its strength and integrity. Between 1973 and 1990, MnDOT built approximately 660 bridges with more expensive, epoxy-coated rebar in the top layer of reinforcing matting and standard black rebar in the bottom layer. The coated top layer, only 3 inches below the deck surface, was expected to resist corrosion, and damage from salt and water would not reach the next layer of rebar, another 3 inches down in a 9-inch deck. 

In recent years, MnDOT has used another reinforcing strategy: mixing noncorrosive fibers into concrete mixes to help prevent or minimize cracking and resist corrosion. The older, mixed reinforcement bridges remain in service and few have been redecked. Performance of mixed reinforcement and fiber reinforcement in Minnesota bridge decks has not been compared to the performance of bridge decks constructed with only epoxy-coated rebar.

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT sought to compare the performance of mixed rebar decks with all epoxy-coated rebar decks, and the performance of fiber-reinforced decks with no-fiber concrete decks. MnDOT also wanted to learn how to plan preventive maintenance efforts for mixed rebar decks.

What Did We Do?

Researchers reviewed reports from inspections, conducted every two years, for bridges with mixed reinforcement decks and decks with 3-inch strips of fiber reinforcement mixed into the concrete. They narrowed their review to bridge inspection data from 506 bridges with epoxy-coated rebar (including 35 control decks with all-epoxy rebar) built between 1973 and 1990, and 22 bridges with fiber-reinforced concrete and epoxy-coated rebar (including four controls with no rebar) built between 2012 and 2017. All of the bridges were inspected through 2017.  

Investigators then conducted site evaluations of 75 mixed rebar decks and 25 all-epoxy rebar decks, as well as 11 fiber-reinforced concrete decks with epoxy rebar and four without rebar. Site surveys focused on confirming the accuracy of recent inspection reports and recording signs of cracking, spalling and other deterioration conditions. 

Spalling has occurred because deicing chemicals and water have seeped into the concrete deck through cracks in the deck surface, causing uncoated steel reinforcement to corrode and concrete to spall.

What Did We Learn?

All-epoxy rebar decks outperformed mixed rebar decks, showing less cracking on the top and underside of the decks. Mixed rebar decks deteriorated at a quicker rate on bridges with steel beams than on bridges with prestressed concrete beams. Traffic levels and surface cracking did not appear to affect deterioration of decks in any group. 

“There’s not really a good visual inspection standard for quantifying cracking under the bridge deck, and that’s especially important for these types of bridges with mixed rebar. Using only epoxy-coated rebar in decks was a good idea.” —Ben Dymond, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Civil Engineering

Data sets were too small to draw any conclusions about possible differences in performance of fiber-reinforced decks compared to bridge decks that were not built with fibers. 

Individual bridge elements, such as bridge deck surfaces, have historically been rated from one (best condition) to five (worst condition). Mixed rebar decks earned element ratings of three to four more frequently than all-epoxy rebar decks, and visual surveys identified more deterioration on the underside of mixed rebar decks than all-epoxy rebar decks. 

The research team recommended amending bridge inspection procedures to add a new rating element for quantifying crack density on the underside of decks to anticipate and prevent spalling and delamination on the underside of mixed rebar decks. The team also recommended that once the deck condition element in mixed-bar decks holds a rating of two for seven years, more robust cracking sealing techniques should be considered to prevent it from reaching a rating of three. (For most bridges, that repair typically occurs after 8.5 years of service.)

Finally, the team recommended continued evaluation of fiber-reinforced decks as inspection data is collected over time. 

What’s Next?

“These findings may help us shift some priorities for repairing or replacing mixed rebar bridges. We will continue to advocate for the use of all epoxy-coated rebar wherever we anticipate high levels of chlorides.” —Nick Haltvick, North Region Bridge Construction Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office

This research confirms that MnDOT’s current practice of using only epoxy-coated rebar in bridge decks remains a durable solution and offers the best long-term value in terms of repair needs. MnDOT will continue to evaluate fiber-reinforced concrete deck behavior and may adopt a rating method for identifying crack density on the underside of concrete decks. 

A crack underneath a bridge deck, revealing signs of leakage and corrosion of steel reinforcement bars.
Cracks on the undersides of a bridge deck can leak as chlorides corrode steel and seep through the crack. 

This Technical Summary pertains to Report 2019-09, “Deterioration of Mixed Rebar and Fiber-Reinforced Concrete Bridge Decks,”  published February 2019. Visit the MnDOT research project page for more information.

MnDOT’s Smart Bridge Sensors Are Leveraged to Measure Vertical Displacement

A Minnesota Department of Transportation research study has developed a new method for estimating vertical displacements on bridges using accelerometers installed on the Interstate 35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis. The dual-model approach shows potential for using these sensors to measure vertical displacement on steel, cable-stayed and other less-stiff bridges where traffic generates higher vibration frequencies. The method expands the industry’s knowledge of how to use smart sensors in new ways.

What Was the Need?

Since September 2008, the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge has carried traffic over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and funneled sensor data to researchers and MnDOT bridge engineers. This smart bridge features over 500 sensors that monitor strain, load distribution, temperature, bridge movement, and other forces and functions.

Sensors help designers and bridge managers learn more about how bridges shift and flex over time. Concrete expands and contracts, and bearings shift; sensor systems continuously gather data about these minute changes, offering an alternative to time-consuming inspection.

Sensors attached to a steel beam to study vibrations in a laboratory.
Sensors attached to a steel beam to study vibrations in a laboratory.

Researchers continue to identify potential uses for sensor data and new ways to use such information to analyze bridge properties and performance. In a 2017 study about monitoring bridge health, researchers learned to distinguish and associate specific vibration frequencies with structural damage, weather conditions and other factors. These frequencies were gathered by accelerometers, which measure structural vibrations triggered by traffic and environmental conditions.

Decks, piers and other structural elements displace vertically under loads and environmental conditions. Researchers and bridge managers wanted to know if accelerometers could be used to measure vertical displacements and help monitor bridge health.

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT needed a procedure for measuring and monitoring vertical displacement on bridges under traffic and environmental forces. Investigators would use the sensor systems on the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge to design and analyze this procedure.

“We need to learn more about sensors because we don’t have a lot of experience with them. This study gave us valuable information about accelerometers and the information they provide,” said Benjamin Jilk, Complex Analysis and Modeling Design Leader, MnDOT Bridge Office.

What Did We Do?

Indirect analysis and measurement of vertical displacements rely on estimations obtained through modeling. Investigators evaluated the most well-developed approach for measuring vibration frequencies like those tracked by accelerometers and refined the method. The team developed a dual-model approach: One model estimates loads and the other estimates displacements.

In a laboratory, investigators evaluated the impact of loading on displacement and vibration frequencies on a girder with contact sensors and accelerometers under moving and stationary loads. Researchers applied the dual-model analysis to laboratory displacement readings to compare the effectiveness of the model with contact sensor responses to loading.

Using laboratory data, investigators tuned the dual-model approach to accelerometer data available from the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge. The research team then applied its identified tuning approach to the data from the bridge’s 26 accelerometers to determine the procedure’s suitability for estimating vertical displacement from vibration response on this bridge and its potential for other structures in the MnDOT bridge system.

New Project: Extreme Flood Risks to Minnesota Bridges and Culverts

Extreme flooding is a threat to Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure and the safety and economic vitality of its communities. A spate of recent flooding events around the state has demonstrated this and heightened the level of concern. Furthermore, climate change — a factor not traditionally accounted for in the design of the state’s infrastructure — is projected to enhance precipitation and the threat of flooding in coming decades.

Given this, MnDOT is undertaking an effort to better predict the threat flooding poses to its bridges, large culverts and pipes, which may be increasingly called upon to convey higher, more frequent flood flows than they were designed for.

The state transportation research program recently launched a two-year extreme flood vulnerability analysis study, which will develop a methodology for characterizing the vulnerability of the state’s bridges, large culverts, and pipes to flooding.

The effort builds upon the previously completed Flash Flood Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Pilot Project (2014), which scored bridges, large culverts, and pipes in MnDOT Districts 1 and 6 for flood vulnerability, allowing detailed assessments of adaptation options for each of their facilities to be prioritized.

This new study, which will be conducted by WSP, aims to develop and test ways to enhance the vulnerability scoring techniques used in the previous study and ensure their applicability throughout the state. Researchers will not actually undertake the statewide assessment, but specify an approach that could be used for it. They will also explore how the outputs of the analysis can be incorporated into MnDOT’s asset management systems. The results of this work will be a clear path forward for MnDOT to use for prioritizing adaptation actions — a key step towards enhancing agency resilience and maintaining good fiscal stewardship.

Project scope

The primary intent of this study is to develop a methodology for characterizing the flood vulnerability of bridges, large culverts, and pipes statewide. As part of the development process, the methodology will be tested on a limited, but diverse, set of assets across the state. Following a successful proof of concept, recommendations will be made on how the outputs (i.e., the vulnerability scores) can be incorporated into the state’s asset management systems.

By determining which facilities are most vulnerable to flooding through the techniques developed on this project, MnDOT can prioritize where adaptation measures will make the biggest impact, ultimately decreasing asset life-cycle and road user costs. Without the development of assessment techniques, adaptation measures run the risk of being implemented in a more reactive and/or ad-hoc fashion, with less regard to where the biggest “bang for the buck” can be realized.

This project will produce several technical memorandums, and is expected to be completed in early 2021.

New measure allows comparison between bridge and pavement conditions

Transportation planners lack a method to directly compare bridge and road conditions. In a new MnDOT-funded study, University of Minnesota researchers have proposed a Percent Remaining Service Interval (PRSI) measure that can uniformly assess the condition of bridges and pavements, enabling planners to make the most efficient use of preservation and improvement funding.

A nighttime view of workers and heavy equipment at a road construction site
Planners would like a condition measure similar to RSL that could be used to compare and prioritize needs for highway and bridge construction.

“Both the MnDOT Bridge Office and the Materials and Road Research Office have very good management systems in place,” says Mihai Marasteanu, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering (CEGE) and the study’s principal investigator. “There is a good potential to develop a new common metric that both offices could use.”

What Did We Do?

To begin developing this new measure, researchers conducted a literature review of current methods used in asset management and life-cycle cost analysis. The review of bridge research focused on performance measures and life expectancy assessment methods, while the study of pavement literature concentrated on performance measures as well as on the use of road service life measures.

Next, the research team, which included civil engineering bridge professor Arturo Schultz, surveyed both bridge management staff and pavement management staff from state transportation agencies. Team members then analyzed the asset management practices of MnDOT’s Office of Bridges and Structures and Office of Materials and Road Research to identify methods for assessing service lives and rehabilitation needs and to highlight the similarities and differences in approaches.

Based on the findings from the survey and analysis, researchers suggested the new method of PRSI that would serve both pavement and bridge needs and offered guidelines for the next steps in developing and implementing a unified PRSI procedure.

“Ultimately, funds for guardrail repairs are drawn from the same purse that pays to fill a pothole or repair a deck joint,” Marasteanu says. “With PRSI, planners could target average values across systems to optimize life-cycle costs and pursue an even distribution of PRSI values to make planning consistent from year to year.”

What’s Next?

In the next phase of the project, researchers will work with the pavement office to identify relevant data for calculating PRSI for pavements. “In addition, we plan to identify the time and costs required to reach the evenly distributed configuration of PRSIs necessary for planning consistency, assess how preservation activities impact funding efficiency, and calculate recommended metrics for asset sustainability,” Marasteanu says.

This article originally appeared in the Center for Transportation Studies’ Catalyst Newsletter, October 2018. The full report, published July 2018, can be accessed at “Remaining Service Life Asset Measure, Phase I,” .

 

 

Improved Specifications for Tightening Anchor Bolts on Signs, Luminaires and Traffic Signals

In recent years, MnDOT inspection crews have reported loose anchor bolts on many support structures for overhead signs, high-mast light towers, tall traffic signals, and other signs and luminaires. On newly installed structures, many nuts on anchor bolts may loosen in as little as three weeks; on older structures, they may loosen less than two years after retightening.

Federal standards mandate inspections at least once every five years, a requirement that already stretched MnDOT’s resources for managing light poles, traffic signals and 2,000-plus overhead signs. With an estimated 20 percent of loose anchor bolts in MnDOT’s highway system at any given time, crews would have to inspect structures every year to ensure public safety.

This issue is not unique to Minnesota. In a national survey, some states estimate as many as 60 percent of their anchor bolts may be loose. Minnesota, like other states, tightens anchor bolts according to American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials (AASHTO) standards. But the standards and procedures for tightening and retightening bolts were insufficient. To develop appropriate specifications, MnDOT needed to know why bolts loosen. The agency also needed improved standards and procedures to ensure that anchor bolts are tightened effectively

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT decided to undertake a research project to determine why anchor bolts and nuts on sign and luminaire support structures loosen after installation or retightening, and to develop new standards and procedures that ensure proper and lasting tightening of these bolts.

Researchers from Iowa State University examined specifications and procedures for tightening anchor bolts on support structures in Minnesota. They also developed new specifications and instructions to help crews tighten bolts properly and ensure lasting safety of signs and lights in Minnesota’s highway system.

How Did We Do IT?

Researchers conducted a literature search on anchor bolt loosening. Then they surveyed MnDOT maintenance staff on bolt lubrication and tightening practices, and visited sites in Minnesota and Iowa to observe installation and retightening practices.

In the laboratory, investigators studied the relationship of torque, rotation and tension of various bolt diameters and material grades. They found that bolt stiffness, grip length (the distance between the nuts at each end of an anchor bolt in a two-nut bolt system), snug-tight standards, lubrication and verification after 48 hours played a role in effective tightening practices.

To determine the impact of environmental and structural strain on bolt tightness, researchers monitored sign structures in the field and in the lab. They attached strain gages to the bolts and post of an overhead sign near Minneapolis-St. Paul and installed a wind monitor, camera and data logging unit nearby to collect strain and environmental data for four months. In the lab, they instrumented a post and baseplate mounted in concrete to compare current and proposed tightening specifications and practices.

Base of an overhead sign that shows large bolts
Researchers attached strain gages to the bolts and the mast of a new overhead sign. Installers followed new procedures and specifications to tighten the bolts so that investigators could evaluate the effectiveness of the new standards.

Investigators developed specifications for each bolt size and grade, anchor baseplate dimension and pole size used by MnDOT based on lab and field results. They also created finite element models to analyze future anchor bolt configurations.

What Did We Learn?

Over- and under-tightening contribute to premature loosening of nuts on anchor bolts. While contractors may lack the experience and training to properly use turn-of-nut guidance, AASHTO recommendations poorly serve the bolt sizes and grades used by MnDOT.

AASHTO’s snug-tight guidance neglects certain characteristics of nuts and bolts, and its turn-of-nut direction is provided for only two bolt sizes and two bolt grades. In some cases, these standards may cause the heads of small bolts to break off and may lead to undertightening of large bolts. MnDOT can measure torque in the field but cannot determine tension, making AASHTO’s equation for verifying torque and tension impractical.

“We have revised our specs to follow the recommended procedures for anchor bolt tightening. The new tables of verification torque values will be fine for both two-nut and one-nut anchor bolt systems,” says Jihshya Lin, Bridge Evaluation and Fabrication Methods Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.

Researchers revised the specifications to require bolt lubrication, establish torque levels for snug-tight and specify turn-of-nut rotation after snug-tight for a range of MnDOT materials:

• Eight bolt sizes, ranging from ¾-inch diameter to 2.5-inch diameter.
• Five bolt grades.
• Nine baseplate thicknesses.
• 12 single- and double-mast pole types.

The new specifications provide torque levels in tables to verify the tightness for each bolt, plate and pole type, eliminating the need to run equations. To assist crews that are installing or retightening anchor bolts, researchers developed guidelines that include a compliance form with a checklist to direct crews through each step of the tightening process and ensure proper tension.

What’s Next?

The new specifications and procedures should improve public safety and reduce the traffic control, manpower and equipment expenditures required to respond to prematurely loosened nuts. Continued monitoring of bolts installed and retightened under these specifications over time would help evaluate the new procedures.

A new implementation project is underway that will demonstrate these findings in the field.  Researchers will also produce educational videos for training and demonstration to MnDOT personnel and contractors.  Video topics will include:

  • Basic Concepts of Bolt Tightening
  • New Specified Procedures
  • Signals and Lighting
  • Overhead Signs

Additionally, researchers will provide one or more training sessions with training materials.  Materials and videos will be posted on a website developed by the researchers.

This post pertains to Report 2018-27, “Re-Tightening the Large Anchor Bolts of Support Structures for Signs and Luminaires,” published August 2018.

 

 

Ultrasonic Testing Method Improves Corrosion Detection on Steel Bridges

A research implementation project completed by MnDOT’s Bridge Office shows that phased array ultrasonic 3-D scanning more accurately detects and measures corrosion on steel bridges than traditional methods. More accurate data will allow engineers to correctly evaluate bridge conditions, calculate safe load capacity and make better maintenance recommendations.

“The Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing System (PAUT) can acquire thousands more data points than can traditional methods in the same amount of time, which makes PAUT technology very useful,” said William Lee Nelson, a MnDOT bridge engineering specialist.

What Was the Need?

Corrosion on steel bridges results from exposure to environmental elements and deicing chemicals, and can lead to loss of steel thickness, with subsequent functional and structural issues. Regular inspection to detect and monitor fatigue cracking and other structural damage is critical to extending bridge performance and ensuring traveler safety on the approximately 13,000 bridges in Minnesota. While MnDOT is committed to improving its infrastructure, increasing costs of bridge inspections and maintenance have prompted the agency to seek innovative methods for performing inspections.

Bridge inspectors have been using conventional ultrasonic devices and hand measuring techniques to evaluate corrosion for many years. However, it is not always possible to obtain complete and accurate data using those methods. Accurate steel thickness and corrosion mapping data is critical for bridge engineers to correctly evaluate bridge conditions, calculate safe load capacity and make better maintenance decisions. Without quality data, bridge engineers may make recommendations that can lead to unnecessary and expensive repairs.

Newer versions of ultrasonic devices—such as the phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) system—use 3-D scanning technology to produce enhanced images and data. One of the advantages of PAUT devices over conventional ultrasonic models is that they provide thousands more data points, allowing engineers to more accurately measure steel thickness and predict maintenance issues and costs. Another benefit of PAUT devices is that they collect corrosion mapping data much more quickly than conventional ultrasonic devices, which improves safety and efficiency by reducing the time bridge inspectors spend on the bridge.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to provide bridge inspectors with training and equipment to collect high-quality data by using the 3-D scanning technology of a PAUT system. The enhanced data would enable bridge engineers to make more accurate assessments of bridge condition and more cost-effective maintenance recommendations.

What Did We Implement?

Investigators reviewed the literature on projects evaluating PAUT systems and identified several studies that assessed these devices favorably. They selected an Olympus OmniScan SX PAUT system for use in this project and used the collected information from the literature review as a point of reference for their field observation testing.

How Did We Do It?

After MnDOT bridge inspectors were trained in the OmniScan PAUT system, they used it to obtain corrosion mapping data for four steel structures in Minnesota: the Sorlie Bridge (Polk County), the Baudette Bridge (Baudette), a high mast light (Duluth) and a test specimen from the Silverdale Bridge (Grant). The project team then compared the PAUT system data with data obtained from traditional (single-beam) ultrasonic methods and traditional field measuring methods.

What Was the Impact?

The comparison showed that the PAUT equipment provided more complete and more accurate corrosion mapping data than did the single-beam ultrasonic and traditional field measuring methods. Based on the findings of the literature review, field observations and the data collected, the project team noted other benefits of using PAUT technology for bridge inspection, including:

  • Accurately determines the thickness and section of structural steel members, allowing engineers to make better recommendations on load capacity.
  • Establishes baseline measurements to better predict maintenance costs.
  • Provides high-quality data that allows engineers to make better repair and maintenance recommendations to avoid unnecessary and costly repairs.
  • Collects inspection data quickly, resulting in time and cost savings for bridge inspectors in the field.

What’s Next?

MnDOT will begin deploying the PAUT system to conduct corrosion inspection of steel bridges and ancillary structures throughout Minnesota. MnDOT will also update the nondestructive testing content in MnDOT’s Bridge and Structure Inspection Program Manual.

Additionally, MnDOT plans to develop and write inspection procedures for the PAUT system and to distribute information about PAUT deployment, targeting MnDOT bridge inspection units, bridge engineers and bridge owners.

This post pertains to Report 2017-33, “Phased Array Ultrasonic Steel Corrosion Mapping for Bridges and Ancillary Structures.”

Affordable Bridge Girder End Repair Method Restores Concrete Beams

By load testing part of a bridge that was removed over Nine Mile Creek, researchers have proven that an innovative and cost-effective method for repairing damaged bridge girders restores them to their original strength.

The findings will help MnDOT and other transportation agencies avoid lengthy traffic closures and more costly techniques when repairing other bridges.

“This innovative method works remarkably well. The amount of damage the crew repaired was pretty extensive. In the end, the strength of the repaired damaged girders was slightly more than the strength of the undamaged girders,” said Carol Shield, Professor, University of Minnesota Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering.

Background

The salting of bridge and roadways during Minnesota winters can create highly corrosive conditions that damage bridges. Such was the case with the Highway 169 Nine Mile Creek Bridge near Edina and Minnetonka, where leaking expansion joints caused corrosion to elements responsible for the strength of bridge girders: shear reinforcement, prestressing strands, and the surrounding concrete.

During a 2013 repair, crews encountered two locations of severe beam deterioration. To repair these areas, MnDOT used a novel method developed in Michigan that involved removing deteriorated concrete and cleaning the area, placing steel reinforcement cages around the damaged beam ends and then encasing the beam ends with concrete. The repair concrete was a specific form of concrete placement called “shotcrete”—a mix of sand, aggregate and cement that is applied with a hose that is wetted at the nozzle before the mixture is sprayed at high velocity onto the repair surface. When the desired thickness of the concrete placement is reached, the placement is troweled and shaped to finish to the desired cross section. The beam end repairs were made in October 2013 and allowed the bridge to continue its function to the public.

MnDOT was able to make the repairs without traffic interruption.

Several years later, the bridge was scheduled for replacement. The repaired girder ends appeared to be in good condition, but the repair technique had not been studied for strength. The bridge replacement presented MnDOT with an excellent opportunity to evaluate the repair method for use on other damaged girder ends.

What Was Our Goal?

When the southbound lanes of the bridge were taken out of service in spring 2017, four prestressed girders were removed from the structure and brought to the University of Minnesota’s Theodore V. Galambos Structural Engineering Laboratory for testing.

Researchers examined and tested the beams to evaluate the effectiveness of the reinforced shotcrete repair method.

“Two of the girders have ends that were repaired by MnDOT, and two girders have ends that never needed to be repaired,” Shield said. “We [tested] the four girders and [compared] their strengths to determine if the repair actually returned the girders to the strength they had prior to the corrosion-related damage.”

The fact that researchers tested good girders alongside repaired girders gave MnDOT a high level of confidence, said Paul Pilarski, Metro North Regional Bridge Construction Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.

Bridge girder ends can be repaired for only $5,000 to $10,000, using this new method.

2018-07-p2-image
Repaired and unrepaired girders were tested to failure in a laboratory. This repaired beam end remains firmly connected to the beam, even after the girder was crushed.

What Did We Learn?

All repairs had been done in field conditions that have the potential to adversely affect the results. But when the beams broke in the lab, the shotcrete repair did not separate from the bonding surface. The repaired reinforced concrete beam ends were found to be at least as strong as similar beams that were in good condition and had not needed repair. The initial repair methods and subsequent testing of the prestressed beam ends are demonstrated in a video created by the research team (testing starts at 3:30 min).

Using this method, severely deteriorated beam ends can be repaired with reinforcement cages and shotcrete for $5,000 to $10,000. The alternative to this type of repair involves constructing a new beam, closing traffic, removing the bridge deck over the damaged beam as well as the beam itself, and recasting the bridge deck and barrier—an intrusive replacement that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than a month of bridge lane closures.

What’s Next?

Results have been presented internally at MnDOT, at state and Midwest conferences in late 2017, and at the National Bridge Preservation Partnership Conference in April 2018. Presentations have impressed transportation engineers from around the country and have increased confidence in dealing with aging infrastructure. MnDOT will continue to refine repair methods with the shotcrete treatment based on best industry practices, and will continue to use the beam end repair method if similar conditions are encountered in the state.

This post pertains to Report 2018-07, “BR27568—Experimental Shear Capacity Comparison Between Repaired and Unrepaired Girder Ends,” published February 2018. More information can be found on the project page. (Part of this article was adapted from an October 2017 article by the Center for Transportation Studies. This project was featured in a KSTP-TV news story.)