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Researchers Work Toward Longer-lasting Bridges

University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering researchers aim to find ways to make the nation's bridges last longer and to design new ones that last a century or longer with funding from a new $2 million grant.

With support from this four-year grant from the National Academy of Sciences' Transportation Research Board, UNL bridge engineering experts will identify technologies and designs to renovate existing bridges and develop guidelines for designing longer-lasting new bridges. It's part of a $150 million congressional initiative to improve the safety and performance of U.S. highways and bridges.

This research will focus on bridges with spans of 300 feet or less, which include 95 percent of the nation's bridges.

Aging bridges are a nationwide concern. The Interstate 35 bridge collapse in Minnesota in August raised public awareness of bridge conditions nationwide. Roughly 30 percent of U.S. bridges are structurally or functionally deficient, said Atorod Azizinamini, the civil engineering professor who will lead this research. Azizinamini, an internationally known bridge researcher, is director of UNL's National Bridge Research Organization, a division of the UNL-based Nebraska Transportation Center.

While replacing all aging or deficient bridges would be ideal, the cost is prohibitive. Finding ways to extend the useful life of rehabilitated, replacement and new bridges using modern materials and construction techniques and technologies is more practical, Azizinamini said.

A highway bridge's typical lifespan is 75 years. This research aims to extend that service life to 100 years or more, Azizinamini said. Increasing the service life could reduce costs significantly. Researchers also will study improved methods for predicting a bridge's lifespan so governments can better plan for maintenance needs.

UNL civil engineering professors Maher Tadros and Andrzej Nowak, also leading bridge engineering experts, will collaborate with Azizinamini on this multidisciplinary project along with international consultants.

The project also has an educational component. Graduate students in civil engineering who assist with the research will have the opportunity to work with some of the world's top bridge designers and researchers, Azizinamini said. The UNL team will also work with international consultants and researchers from leading design and construction companies.

Azizinamini said UNL's longstanding collaboration with the Nebraska Department of Roads helped position the university to win this project. This strong partnership has led to innovative road and bridge designs statewide.

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