The East Fork Bridge, about 30 miles south of Huntington, is on its way to once again being safe, sound and fully operational thanks to innovative repair techniques developed by Hota GangaRao and colleagues at West Virginia University.

Each year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card for America’s infrastructure. In 2013, the report found that 13.4 percent of West Virginia’s bridges were “structurally deficient.” One of these bridges is the East Fork Bridge.

“Deterioration of the piles of this bridge has been documented in inspections dating back to 2007,” said GangaRao, director of the Constructed Facilities Center and Maurice A. and JoAnn Wadsworth Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at West Virginia University. “In 2011, a report documented that section loss for the bridge was up nearly 50 percent.” As a result, a six-ton weight limit was posted on the bridge, prompting lane closures that impacted public users.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contacted GangaRao and his team at the Constructed Facilities Center to begin an investigation of possible uses of composite materials to rectify the situation. Using glass fiber reinforced polymer composites and self-consolidating concrete, the Constructed Facilities Center team was able to install jackets and wraps to steel-H piles, which was debuted for the first time today (March 27). The project was supported by funds from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

According to GangaRao, the use of composites to repair bridges provides a number of advantages.

“The main advantage to using composite materials is time,” he said. “CFC engineers Ray Liang and Mark Skidmore were able to complete this phase of the project in three weeks. Another advantage is cost, which averages about 75 percent less than conventional construction.” Other advantages include low maintenance and longer usage life for the product.

This is not the first time the team from WVU has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install composites on our nation’s waterway infrastructure system. In July 2013, a Constructed Facilities Center team, along with hired divers, repaired the concrete lock discharge ports of the Chickamauga Lock and Dam in Tennessee. They have also assisted with construction of new emergency gate recess filler panels using FRP at the Willow Island Lock and Dam, which are also located in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s Huntington District.

All told, the Constructed Facilities Center has replaced 12 bridges in West Virginia with FRP composite decks. An additional six bridges were reinforced with FRP rebar in concrete decks and four bridge beams and columns were strengthened with FRP wraps. There is also one bridge in the state—the Laurel Lick Bridge, near Berlin—that is an all-composite bridge. More projects are planned for installation over the next year.

“This is just the beginning of this type of rehabilitative effort,” said GangaRao. “The history of FRP bridges is still brief and much information regarding the long-term performance has yet to be gathered. We hope that new FRP composite bridges will exhibit the durability, provide the requisite economics, appeal to the aesthetic sense of the public and finally grow in leaps and bounds during the 21st century.”



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

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