Tag Archives: bridge

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.

Continue reading Using Debonded Strands to Reduce End Stress in Bridge Beams

New Project: Use of Innovative Technology to temporarily Deter Bat-Bridge Use Prior to and During Construction

MnDOT has funded a study to evaluate the use of non-lethal ultrasonic acoustic devices to temporarily deter bats from bridges before and during construction projects.

Continue reading New Project: Use of Innovative Technology to temporarily Deter Bat-Bridge Use Prior to and During Construction

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.

Cost-Effective Strategies for Repairing Grout in Post-Tensioned Bridges

Researchers provided recommendations and general guidance to assist MnDOT in developing cost-effective strategies for future investigation and repair contracts of post-tensioned bridges built in Minnesota before 2003. To develop these recommendations, researchers identified grout voids in post-tensioning ducts on two representative bridges, documented strand corrosion and repaired voids by filling them with grout.

“With the guidelines developed in this project, we have a good basis for cost-effectively and efficiently inspecting post-tensioned bridges built before 2003,” said Dustin Thomas, South Region Bridge Construction Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.

“From a fiscal perspective, it makes sense to do limited inspections on these bridges before committing additional resources to more comprehensive inspection and repair,” said Mark Chauvin, Associate Principal and Unit Manager at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.

What Was the Need?

Some concrete bridges in the United States are strengthened using post-tensioning—a method of reinforcing concrete by running steel strands through a hollow plastic or metal duct placed within the concrete element. Tension is then applied to these strands with a hydraulic jack, com-pressing the concrete and creating internal stresses that resist external traffic loads. Post-tensioning improves the durability of concrete and virtually eliminates cracking.

Post-tensioning ducts are filled with grout—a mixture of cement, sand and water that hardens around the steel strands. This practice prevents the strands from corroding if they are exposed to air, water and deicing chemicals.

Grouting materials used in bridges built before 2003 frequently produced voids where grout did not fully fill the post-tensioning ducts or cover the strands. These post-tensioning strands were vulnerable to corrosion, which can lead to deterioration in bridge elements over time. Once transportation agencies and the industry became aware of these issues, they improved their construction practices and began using prepackaged grout materials with additives so that the post-tensioning ducts would be completely filled.

About 40 post-tensioned bridges were built in Minnesota before 2003 that might still require repair. MnDOT commissioned a two-phase project to develop techniques for evaluating these structures. In the first phase of the project, completed in 2012, researchers inspected a representative sample of these bridges and developed a general inspection protocol to guide future investigations. In the second phase, described here, researchers developed additional guidance about grout repairs, as well as the most cost-effective contracting methods for such repairs.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of the second phase of this project was to provide recommendations and general guidance that MnDOT could use to develop cost-effective strategies for future investigation and repair of post-tensioned bridges built in Minnesota before 2003. As part of this project, researchers identified grout voids in post-tensioning ducts on two representative bridges, documented strand corrosion and repaired voids by filling them with grout.

Workers repairing grout voids
Following bridge inspections, about one-third of discovered grout voids were filled using vacuum-assisted or pressure grouting repair techniques.

What Did We Do?

In 2013, researchers inspected three spans on two Minnesota bridges for voids around post-tensioning strands. They began the project by using ground penetrating radar to map the location of the ducts. Once the ducts were located and mapped, researchers used a borescope to visually inspect the duct interiors at locations where voids were likely to be present. When they found voids, they documented the percentage of the duct filled by grout and the extent of corrosion in the post-tensioning strands within the ducts, if any. Following inspection, researchers filled the voids with grout and installed sensors within the voids at two locations to monitor the long-term corrosion of post-tensioning strands.

Using their experience with these repairs, researchers then created guidelines that would help MnDOT develop cost-effective strategies that can be implemented in future post-tensioning duct investigation and repair contracts.

What Did We Learn?

Researchers found voids in 32 percent of inspected ducts. These voids were typically at least 10 feet long and about one-half the diameter of the duct. Although prestressing steel strands were exposed at approximately half of the grout voids, no significant corrosion of the strands was observed at any location. Light to moderate corrosion was usually observed on the inside surfaces of the galvanized metal ducts at grout voids.

The guidelines developed by researchers address:

  • Typical work plans for investigation and repair, including considerations for bridge access and traffic maintenance during inspection and repair.
  • Document review, including bridge design drawings and post-tensioning shop drawings.
  • Visual surveys to identify signs of distress near post-tensioning ducts.
  • Procedures for borescope inspection and remedial grouting repair.
  • Various contract and project approaches for developing specialized inspection and re-medial repair contracts, with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Using multiple contracts with graduated levels of inspection and repair will most likely provide MnDOT with the best value.
  • Planning-level cost information for seven representative pre-2003 post-tensioning bridges identified by MnDOT to assist in future budget calculations.

What’s Next?

The guidelines developed in this project will provide MnDOT with a framework to solicit and procure similar engineering and construction services contracts for post-tensioning bridges in Minnesota. Researchers recommend exploring additional techniques to more rapidly assess and inspect post-tensioned bridges, including noninvasive investigative methods that do not require drilling holes.


This post pertains to Report 2017-04, “Considerations for Development of Inspection and Remedial Grouting Contracts for Post-tensioned Bridges,” published January 2017.

New Project: Phase 3 of Drone Bridge Inspection Research Focuses on Confined Spaces

MnDOT recently entered into a contract with Collins Engineers Inc. to complete a third phase of research testing drones for bridge inspections, with a new focus on confined spaces.

This Phase 3 project is titled “Improving Quality of Bridge Inspections Using Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” Jennifer Wells, MnDOT maintenance bridge engineer, will serve as the project’s technical liaison. Barritt Lovelace, regional manager for Collins Engineering, will serve as principal investigator.

“Phase 3 will allow us to utilize a new drone specific to confined space inspections,” Wells said. “This new drone is meant to reach places the prior drones could not, which will supplement our efforts nicely.  Also, Phase 3 will include more bridge inspections in order to get a more comprehensive feel for cost and time savings.”

The increasing costs of bridge inspections are a concern for MnDOT. The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) has been shown to reduce costs, improve the quality of bridge inspections, and increase safety. The UAS can deploy a wide range of imaging technologies including high definition still, video, and infrared sensors, and data can be analyzed using 3D imaging software.

MnDOT completed a small research project in 2015 to study the effectiveness of UAS technology applied to bridge safety inspections. The project team inspected four bridges at various locations throughout Minnesota and evaluated UAS’ effectiveness in improving inspection quality and inspector safety based on field results.

A second research effort demonstrated UAS imaging on the Blatnik Bridge and investigated UAS use for infrared deck surveys. Additionally, a best practices document was created to identify bridges that are best suited for UAS inspection.

It is the goal, based on this next phase of research, to implement a statewide UAS bridge inspection plan, which will identify overall cost effectiveness, improvements in quality and safety, and future funding sources for both state and local bridges.

Collins Engineering will also investigate a collision tolerant drone — the Flyability Elios — for confined space inspections.

As part of the Phase 3 project, Collins Engineering will:

  • Review current Federal Aviation (FAA) rules, technical literature, owners and industry experiences, and ongoing UAS research.
  • Develop bridge inspection list based on Phase II research regarding best practices. Approximately 20-25 bridges will be inspected under this contract depending on location and size.
  • Develop a field work plan for the bridge inspection list. If approvals for these bridges cannot be obtained, suitable alternatives will be chosen. This field work plan will address safety concerns, FAA, and other agency requirements.
  • Establish a work schedule and deliverable submission schedule.
  • Establish methods of access and schedule equipment.
  • Receive training on the Flyability collision tolerant drone for use in the study.
  • Perform field work at the selected bridges to collect imagery and evaluate the technology to accomplish the project goals.
  • Inspect known deficiencies identified during previous inspections with the use of the UAS to evaluate the ability to identify deficiencies using photos and video.
  • Enter bridge inspection data in Minnesota’s Structure Information Management System (SIMS) providing element condition ratings, photos, videos, etc. based on UAS imagery and information.
  • Prepare a draft report to document project activities, findings and recommendations.

The Phase 3 project is scheduled to be complete by July 2018.

MnDOT Improves on Award-Winning Use of Drones for Bridge Inspection

MnDOT’s efforts to study whether drones can help bridge inspectors are progressing, and the second phase project has been completed. (Meanwhile, a third project has just begun.)

Phase 1 of this research project demonstrated that drones can reduce safety risks and inconvenience to bridge inspectors and the traveling public. Phase 2 shows that new drones, designed with vertical and horizontal camera and sensor capabilities for structure inspections, give bridge inspectors safe access to under-deck areas that were previously difficult or impossible to reach. The new drones cost even less than the unit tested in Phase 1.

“Using a drone rather than snoopers for bridge inspection can save significant time and cost. The FHWA approves of this use as well. It’s another tool for inspectors to employ,” said Jennifer Wells, Principal Engineer on Mobility, MnDOT Office of Bridges and Structures.

“We were one of the first transportation agencies and contractors to test and use this new technology for bridge inspections. Drones let bridge inspectors collect more data and collect it more safely and efficiently,” said Barritt Lovelace, Regional Manager, Collins Engineers, Inc.

What Was the Need?

MnDOT and local bridge owners have 600 bridge inspectors who monitor more than 20,000 bridges in Minnesota. Each bridge must be inspected once every 24 months. Bridges in poor condition and those considered fracture-critical (where failure of a single component could cause collapse) must be inspected every 12 months. Large bridges can take weeks to fully inspect and often require inspectors to dangle from ropes or stand in buckets on the end of “snoopers,” cranes that reach from the bridge deck to below-deck level to put inspectors within sight of under-deck elements.

Snoopers are expensive and require traffic lane closures, presenting safety risks to the traveling public and inspectors. MnDOT established in a Phase 1 study that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) significantly augment inspection findings with infrared and imaging data while reducing safety risks to inspectors and the public. The project earned a 2016 Minnesota State Government Innovation Award as well as awards and recognition from such groups as the American Public Works Association.

UAS designed specifically for structure inspections were unavailable during Phase 1. The UAS used in that phase had key operational limitations, including the inability to proceed when concrete and steel bridge components blocked Global Positioning System (GPS) signals. When that happened, the drone simply returned to base automatically.

What Was Our Goal?

In Phase 2, MnDOT wanted to test the use of an upgraded UAS to examine larger and more challenging bridges. The new UAS, which was specially designed for structure inspections, featured more robust imaging and infrared data-gathering capabilities, and was more flexible to control. Its operational capabilities also were not diminished by the loss of GPS signals. Results from UAS inspections and traditional bridge inspection methods would be compared for quality and cost-effectiveness.

What Did We Do?

Investigators selected a prototype senseFly albris UAS to inspect four bridges:

  • The Blatnik Bridge over the St. Louis River between Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, a 7,980-foot-long steel through-arch bridge with steel deck trusses.
  • A 362-foot-long two-span steel high truss bridge over the Red River in Nielsville, Minnesota.
  • A 263-foot-long corrugated steel culvert in St. Paul.
  • The Stillwater Lift Bridge, a 10-span structure over the St. Croix River with six steel through-truss spans and one movable span.

For each bridge or structure, researchers prepared detailed safety and inspection plans to identify and mitigate potential hazards, inspection needs and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. Researchers conducted and evaluated UAS and standard inspection methods for each inspection site, analyzing results in terms of access technique, data collection and usefulness for interim and special inspections.

What Did We Learn?

The senseFly albris UAS offered a clear operational upgrade over the Phase 1 unit. It can operate without GPS; the camera lens can turn up and down at 90-degree angles; and protective shrouds and ultrasonic sensors prevent the propellers from striking bridge elements.

Thermal image of a bridge deck taken by a drone.
Thermal image of a bridge deck taken by a drone.

For some inspection functions, lane closures can be curtailed or eliminated altogether. The drone worked well in the high, confined spaces of the Blatnik Bridge and should provide under-deck inspection details otherwise unavailable or too costly for any tall bridge in the MnDOT system. This UAS identifies and measures clearances, rope access anchor points and other pre-inspection conditions for planning large-scale or emergency inspections. Photogrammetry software can be used with the UAS to develop three-dimensional models of bridges and bridge sites. Using infrared thermal sensors, the UAS can detect delamination of concrete while flying adjacent to lanes of traffic. For smaller, confined spaces on bridges and culverts, the senseFly albris may not be ideal. Despite its protective shrouds, it is not as collision-tolerant as needed for very tight spaces.

Currently no UAS replicates hands-on inspection functions like cleaning, sounding, measuring and tactile testing. But the UAS is an additional tool that provides conventional and improved data safely. The FAA and the MnDOT Office of Aeronautics no longer require private pilot certification for drone operators. A new, streamlined certification and licensing procedure makes drone use more practical.

Costs were significantly lower with UAS inspections than with conventional approaches. Conventional inspection of the Blatnik Bridge would have required four snoopers, an 80-foot lift and eight days of inspection, at a cost of about $59,000 (without the cost of mobilizing equipment and traveling). The UAS Blatnik Bridge inspection would contract as a five-day, $20,000 project.

What’s Next?

Phase 3, which began in the summer of 2017, uses the senseFly albris and the Flyability Elios, a collision-tolerant drone more suited to confined spaces such as box girders or culverts. During this phase, researchers will identify which situations are best suited for drone use, what parameters should govern drone use in bridge inspections, and how UAS can be integrated into standard inspection operations at a county and district level.


This Technical Summary pertains to Report 2017-18, “Unmanned Aircraft System Bridge Inspection Demonstration Project Phase II,” published June 2017.

New Project: Creating a Tool to Estimate Bridge Construction Time and Costs

MnDOT recently executed a contract with WSB & Associates Inc. to begin work on a research project titled “Bridge Construction Time and Costs.”

The research project will help the State of Minnesota’s Bridge Office develop a guidance document and a tool for bridge construction time estimation to be used by MnDOT District project managers and construction staff. The tool will provide a range of production rates based on specific design criteria, being more concise based on the level of information available and will aid in evaluating the potential benefit for accelerated bridge construction (ABC) techniques.

“This research will enable District project managers, who may not have bridge knowledge or background, to complete project planning and scoping more effectively,” said Paul Johns of MnDOT’s Office of Construction and Innovative Contracting.

Mike Rief of WSB & Associates will serve as the project’s principal investigator. Johns will serve as technical liaison.

According to the initial work plan, the project is scheduled to be completed by early March 2018, and WSB & Associates will complete the following tasks:

  1. Conduct an existing practices literature review of current departments of transportation processes around the United States for bridge time and cost estimation.
  2. Review and compile actual case study bridge construction production rates and cost data for major bridge components from state-provided diaries, schedules and bridge plans.
  3. Evaluate and select the best software format and style for a bridge construction time estimation tool. Load state case study production rate data into estimation tool and run validation using bridges currently under construction.
  4. Produce a research report summarizing the literature review on best practices. Produce a user guide for bridge time estimation tool and training presentation.
  5. An optional task, if the budget allows, will include the development of a cost estimating tool. Cost estimation data would be gathered from the literature review and case study analysis during the development of bridge construction time estimation tool for efficiency.

A Look at Local Bridge Removal Practices and Policies

Many local agencies in Minnesota lack funding to construct and maintain all the bridges in their roadway network. One way to lower costs is to reduce the number of bridges.

In Minnesota, some township bridges are on roads with low usage that have alternative accesses for nearby residents, but local officials are reluctant to remove the bridges.

To identify possible changes to how redundant and low-use bridges are identified and removed in Minnesota, the Local Road Research Board conducted a transportation research synthesis, “Local Bridge Removal Policies and Programs,” that explores how other states make bridge removal decisions.

Fifteen state DOTs responded to a survey about their processes, with varying levels of state oversight identified for bridge removal decisions. Researchers also examined funding and incentives offered by some DOTs to local agencies for bridge removal, as well as criteria for considering bridge removal.

A literature search of bridge design manuals, inspection manuals and bridge programs was also conducted to identify related policies and programs.

Read the TRS to learn more about the various bridge removal policies and procedures in place in Minnesota and other states.

New Study: Experimental Shear Capacity Comparison Between Repaired and Unrepaired Girder Ends

MnDOT Research Services recently executed a contract with the University of Minnesota to begin work on a research study titled “Experimental Shear Capacity Comparison between Repaired and Unrepaired Girder Ends.”

The research will determine if a bridge repair to the TH 169 Nine Mile Creek Bridge near Edina and Minnetonka was sufficient to restore the original strength of a girder end in shear. Load testing to failure will be conducted on two repaired girder ends and two unrepaired girder ends that will be removed from the bridge. Objectives include a comparison of the failure load between the repaired ends and the unrepaired ends. The test results also will provide some answers to questions on whether shotcrete is a structural repair or if it is just a covering over of deterioration.

Carol Shield, professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Civil Engineering, Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, will serve as the research project’s principal investigator. Paul Pilarski, MnDOT bridge engineer, will serve as the study’s technical liaison.

According to the initial work plan in the contract, the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2018.

Background

Over time, the south bound exterior girder ends on each side of Pier 4 and Pier 26 of the TH 169 Nine Mile Creek Bridge have suffered significant corrosion damage that exposed shear reinforcement, exterior flange prestressing strands, and the sole plate anchorages. Girder ends were repaired in September 201 3 by encasing a 4-foot length of the end using a system of dowels, additional shear reinforcement, and shotcrete. The bridge is scheduled for replacement in 2017.

There is interest in determining if the repair was sufficient to restore the original strength of the girder end in shear. Load testing to failure will be conducted on two repaired girder ends and two unrepaired girder ends that will be removed from the bridge. Objectives include a comparison of the failure load between the repaired ends and the unrepaired ends.

Project Objective

The ability to effectively repair corrosion damaged girder ends extends the useful life of prestressed concrete bridges. These repairs are significantly less expensive than replacing the bridge. Repairing bridges is also beneficial to the traveling public as travel is not interrupted, or interrupted for a significantly shorter time than for bridge replacement. Experimentally demonstrating that the repair restores the girders up to the design strength enhances the safety of the bridge and provides MnDOT with a documented substantiated repair method that can be applied to other bridge girders in a similar state.

Project Scope

When the southbound lanes of the TH 169 Nine Mile Creek Bridge are taken out of service, the contractor will remove four prestressed girders from the structure and deliver the south ends of them to the University’s Department of Civil Engineering Theodore V. Galambos Structures Lab. Two of the girders will have ends that have been repaired. The other two girders will be of the same shear design but will not have been repaired, nor show significant signs of corrosion. Once at the Galambos Laboratory decks will be cast on the girders. One end of each girder will be tested to failure using a setup designed to precipitate a shear failure. Failure loads between the repaired and original undamaged girder ends will be compared. The development of crack patterns under load will also be documented to further understand the behavior of the repair.

Assistance

MnDOT will make arrangements for transportation of the girder ends to the University’s Civil Engineering Building. MnDOT will request that the contractor provide weights of the cut girders prior to delivery. MnDOT will make arrangements with the contractor to take concrete cores from the short end of the cut girders and provide the existing bridge bearing pads. MnDOT will provide calculations for determining the required deck width and concrete strength to avoid a flexural failure.

I-35W ‘Smart Bridge’ Test Site Uses Vibration Data to Detect Bridge Defects

By analyzing vibration data from the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge, MnDOT is working to develop monitoring systems that could detect structural defects early on and ultimately allow engineers to improve bridge designs.

“With data spanning several years, the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge offers a unique opportunity for investigating the environmental effects on a new concrete bridge in a location with weather extremes,” said Lauren Linderman, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering. Linderman served as the research project’s principal investigator.

“This project gets MnDOT closer to using bridge monitoring systems in combination with visual inspection to help detect structural problems before they affect safety or require expensive repairs,” said Benjamin Jilk, Principal Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office. Jilk served as the research project’s technical liaison.

2017-01-bridge.png
Completed in 2008, the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge has a smart bridge monitoring system that includes hundreds of sensors.

What Was the Need?

In September 2008, the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge was constructed to include a “smart bridge” electronic monitoring system. This system includes more than 500 sensors that continuously provide data on how the concrete structure bends and deforms in response to traffic loads, wind and temperature changes. Transportation agencies are increasingly interested in such systems. As a complement to regular inspections, they can help detect problems early on, before the problems require expensive repairs or lead to catastrophic failure. Smart bridge systems can also help engineers improve future bridge designs.

The smart bridge system on the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge includes accelerometers, which provide data on the way the bridge vibrates in response to various stimuli, including structural damage. Vibration-based monitoring has the advantage of allowing damage to be detected at any location within the bridge rather than only at the specific locations where measuring devices have been placed.

However, it can be difficult to use vibration monitoring to detect damage when vibration is masked by the bridge’s natural response to traffic loads, wind, temperature changes and other environmental conditions. A crack in a bridge girder, for example, can produce a vibration signature similar to one produced by a change in beam length due to variations in temperature or other causes. Consequently, since 2008 MnDOT has conducted a series of projects using data from the St. Anthony Falls Bridge to establish a way to distinguish anomalous data indicating a structural defect or damage from background “noise” associated with other causes.

What Was Our Goal?

This project sought to develop a method for analyzing accelerometer data from the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge that would show how the bridge naturally vibrates due to traffic, wind and other environmental conditions. With this fingerprint of the bridge’s natural vibration, engineers would have a baseline against which to measure anomalies in the data that might indicate structural damage.

What Did We Do?

A large amount of data has been collected from the bridge since its construction. To establish the vibratory fingerprint for the bridge, researchers examined the frequencies and shapes (or modes) of bridge vibration waves. The method they used to identify the data segments needed for the fingerprint was to evaluate the peak amplitude of bridge vibration waves and their root mean square (RMS), a measure of the intensity of free vibration.

The researchers applied this method to the vibration data collected on the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge between April 2010 and July 2015, calculating the average frequencies for four wave modes and determining how they varied with the bridge’s temperature. They also calculated the way frequencies changed with the bridge’s thermal gradients, or variations in temperature between parts of the structure.

What Did We Learn?

The methods developed in this project were successful in establishing a fingerprint for the way the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge vibrates due to environmental conditions, and a way to evaluate changes in vibration over time indicative of structural damage or other factors.

Researchers found that the ratio of peak signal amplitude to RMS in bridge vibrations was a strong indicator of data that should be analyzed, and was evidence of a large excitation followed by free vibration. By themselves, peak amplitude and RMS cannot distinguish between ambient free vibration and forced vibration.

Researchers were able to use this method to successfully analyze 29,333 data segments from the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge. This analysis revealed that as temperature increases, the natural frequency of vibration tends to decrease. The magnitude of this change, they concluded, must be related not just to the elasticity of the bridge but also to other factors such as humidity. However, temperature gradients within the bridge did not appear to have a significant effect on the natural frequencies of the structure.

What’s Next?

MnDOT will continue to collect data from the bridge as it ages to further understand its behavior. This will provide an opportunity to determine how anomalies in vibration data correspond to cracking and other forms of structural distress. Ultimately, MnDOT hopes to use this bridge monitoring system in combination with visual inspection both to detect problems in bridges earlier and to develop better bridge designs. Researchers are also currently working on a follow-up project, Displacement Monitoring of I-35W Bridge with Current Vibration-Based System, to determine the effects of temperature on the bridge’s dynamic and long-term vertical displacements, which can be used to monitor the bridge’s stiffness, connections and foundations.

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This post pertains to Report 2017-01, Feasibility of Vibration-Based Long-Term Bridge Monitoring Using the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge, published January 2017.