Monitoring bridge health focus of $1.5 million grant

PULLMAN, Wash. — A group of Washington State University researchers, led by Dr. Rafik Y. Itani, director of the WSU-Washington State Transportation Center and professor of civil and environmental engineering, will be developing a demonstration project on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to monitor the health of bridges as part of a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

The work is part of a FHWA initiative to enhance future infrastructure design. Such instrumentation is expected to become a component of future bridge construction.
“This is a new approach,’’ said Itani. “Using information technology, we want to monitor bridges, so we will be able to see what is happening to them over a long period of time.’’ Itani added that the instrumentation would also be valuable to monitor effects of events such as significant storms or earthquakes.

Researchers will be fitting the existing bridge with sophisticated instrumentation to measure a variety of stresses resulting from wind loading and fatigue due to truckloads. The instrumentation will allow researchers to monitor the bridge in real-time over the Internet.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is an appropriate place to start looking at bridge health, the WSU researcher said. The channel’s high winds, stiff currents, and steep banks have made it a challenging engineering feat. The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, known as “Galloping Gertie,” failed in 1940 and instantly became a textbook case on engineering failure. The current Tacoma Narrows Bridge was built in the 1950s and while in excellent condition, is now more than 50 years old. Construction of a new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, parallel to the existing bridge, will start in the near future.

In addition to this Washington State Transportation Center project, other demonstration projects that received funding as part of the three-year grant include the following:

–Corrosion studies of cables in pre-stressed bridges.
–Seismic response of bridges during long duration earthquakes.
–Deep foundation retrofitting.
–Organization of the First Middle East International Conference on Advancements in Civil and Mechanical Engineering scheduled for May 2004 in Amman, Jordan, is underway to commemorate the 25 years of cooperation between WSU and the Universities in Jordan.

The Washington State Transportation Center is a cooperative transportation research center. Its members, including Washington State University, the University of Washington, and the Washington State Department of Transportation, coordinate state and commercial transportation research efforts and develop research opportunities nationally and locally.