Bridges Report Reveals Corrosion-Related Technological Gaps

HOUSTON, TX /Marketwire/ -- The collapse of a freeway bridge into the Mississippi River captured the attention of global audiences in early August. The catastrophe sheds a much-needed spotlight on the serious threat posed by structural deficiencies in U.S. bridges. "Besides tremendous personal loss, this type of disaster carries with it a huge financial burden," said Tony Keane, Executive Director of the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE). "The U.S. spends more than $8.3 billion a year on the corrosion-related repairs of highway bridges."

The increasingly publicized problem is highlighted in "Highway Bridges," a paper commissioned by NACE Technical and Research Activities Committee (TRAC) and written by Dr. Hira Ahluwalia of Material Selection Resources Inc.

NACE hired Ahluwalia to identify gaps in technology that would ultimately impact the reduction of corrosion costs for industry. The analyst addressed five industry sectors, one of which was highway bridges.

In his report, Ahluwalia details the pervasiveness of corrosion problems in U.S. bridges. More than 15% of the U.S.'s 600,000 bridges suffer from corroded steel and steel reinforcements.

"The price of steel, concrete, and other construction materials is on the rise," said NACE President Louis D. Vincent. "It is absolutely imperative that industry deal with structural deficiencies sooner rather than later."

Well aware of the crumbling state of the nation's bridges, industry leaders have set an engineering goal to develop 75- to 100-year bridge designs that require minimum maintenance.

The highway bridges report specifies several technology gaps that must be addressed to accomplish this goal.

The first gap addressed is knowledge management and the need for NACE and the Federal Highway Administration to develop education modules for bridge engineers, as well as to collaborate with other technical societies, to provide corrosion-control training. In an announcement made last week, NACE launched a capital fundraising campaign for the development of a world-class corrosion-training facility in Houston. The center will ultimately aid in addressing these knowledge management concerns.

A second gap mentioned in the highway bridges report is corrosion prediction and modeling concerns. The paper stresses a need for the development of an expert system for data interpretation, improved reliability of sensors, wireless technology, and smart sensor technology for monitoring coating deterioration.

The third gap is corrosion damage assessment, which, according to the report, must be improved with the use of nondestructive evaluation and other techniques.

Finally, the fourth gap of new materials includes a recommendation that they be paired with existing construction materials to build more durable structures that require less maintenance and reduced costs.

"Traffic load and corrosion combine to deteriorate any kind of bridge, whether steel, concrete, or suspension," said Ahluwalia. "By addressing these technological gaps, I have no doubt that industry can meet its goal to design bridges that last 100 years or more."

The highway bridges report is available free of charge on the NACE Web site. It is part of the gap analysis and report that follows up the Cost of Corrosion Study completed in 2002, funded by the Federal Highway Administration. The report also serves as the first step in developing an industry-corrosion roadmap.

NACE International is a professional association dedicated to promoting public safety, protecting the environment, and reducing the economic impact of corrosion. Established in 1943, NACE International has more than 17,000 members worldwide, offers technical training and certification programs, sponsors conferences, and produces industry standards, reports, publications, and software.

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