Most people don’t think of bridges as being portable or modular, but Karl Barth isn’t most people.

Barth, Samples, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at West Virginia University, has spent most of his career working to improve bridge infrastructure and develop design innovations. His newest innovation, which was test-poured this week in his lab, features an innovative concrete joint that can be filled with ultra-high-performance concrete.

“Imagine a full bridge having four girders and three joints in between the modular units,” said Barth. “A joint similar to what we are researching in our lab would be poured between the girders. These joints are each being cast as individual modular girder units. In practice, these would then be shipped to a bridge site and erected individually.”

Barth came up with the unique design in consultation with the American Iron and Steel Institute and Lafarge Ductal, a Canadian company that produces the ultra-high-performance concrete.

“The design came about through a technical working group within the AISI Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance,” Barth said. “We tested the individual girder units and found that they were very robust. The UHPC joint has been used effectively in other modular systems so we worked with the Federal Highway Administration to utilize a joint similar to what they have researched and implemented it with our girder.”

While the successful test pour occurred recently in Morgantown, the actual implementation of the joint won’t happen until mid-2016. When it does occur, however, it will happen in West Virginia first in conjunction with the state’s Department of Highways.

“We will construct four bridges – two near WVU and two near Huntington – featuring this and other innovative technologies,” said Barth, who noted that WVDOH is supporting the development of the technology with more than $300,000 in funding.

Modular or prefabricated bridges are not a unique concept to Barth, who serves as technical director for the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance’s Bridge Technology Center. In conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration, the SSSBA has focused on prefabricated bridge elements and systems – or PBES – which allows pieces to be fabricated off-site in a controlled environment, which usually yields a better product than if they are pieced together in the field.

Barth, who estimates that more than 1,000 bridges in West Virginia could be a fit for this technology, noted that no one has fully researched the behavior of these prefabricated bridge elements and systems.

“From an academic perspective, there is a whole world of things to explore in structural behavior,” Barth explained. “The fact that we are developing and implementing this technology in West Virginia puts us at the forefront of new technology.”



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

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