Are Expansion Joints The Culprits? – A Conversation with Debbie Steiger with Watson Bowman Acme

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Debbie Steiger at the TSP2 Outdoor Demo in Orlando

It is widely acknowledged that many bridge deterioration problems stem from the malfunctioning of the expansion joints. When these joints do not work properly, they can compromise the integrity of bridges over time and reducing their service life. To discuss bridge expansion joints, I spoke with Debbie Steiger, who developed her remarkable and successful career in the bridge sector. She is the National Sales Manager for the Bridge and Tunnel Sector with Watson Bowman Acme, a company that has been in the forefront of manufacturing and designing expansion joint systems for 70 years.

Can you highlight the pivotal points of your professional career?

I have a long tenure and a fulfilling career with Watson Bowman Acme. I joined the firm right out of college as a detailer drawing expansion joints in the engineering department. Even though I have an architectural engineering degree, my whole career has been on the civil side of the construction industry. Over the years, I was afforded career opportunities in both marketing and sales. I do like the fact that my career path has encompassed all three of these areas: engineering, marketing and sales. It has allowed me to have a wider perspective of the business and the industry.

There are two pivotal points in my career worth mentioning. The first one was when I took a position in sales and moved from New York State, where Watson Bowman Acme is based,  to California to run the West Coast bridge division of the company. It was definitely a sink or swim moment, both personally and from a career perspective. It was also probably one of the most exciting times to be involved in our industry. California was in the middle of rebuilding its infrastructures after it was hit by two major earthquakes, the Loma Prieta in 1989 and the Northridge in 1994. At the same time major design-build projects were just being adopted in the West Coast.  I had the opportunity of working on several high-profile design-build projects, such as the San Joaquin Corridor and the Eastern Transportation Corridor, both located in Southern California, and the Interstate 15 reconstruction in Utah for the Winter Olympics. It was a very fast paced and stimulating time.

Years later I ended up moving back to New York State.  As the market started shifting toward bridge maintenance and preservation, I was able to establish a focused market sector team for Watson Bowman Acme dedicated to the understanding of this new trend with the goal of taking advantage of the opportunities that it offered.  This is one of the accomplishments in my career I’m most proud of. This is also when my involvement with TSP2 really began as well.

Looking back at these two pivotal moments of my career, I see that there are strong similarities between them. In both cases I started from infancy, the West Coast territory and establishing a market sector focus for Watson Bowman Acme.  Fundamentally I am a strategist with the capacity of evaluating markets and creating paths for business growth.

When I started working for Watson Bowman Acme, I never had any intention of being in marketing and sales.  However, I accepted the opportunity I was offered that ended up broadening and enriching my career.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The part I enjoy the most is learning and understanding the overall market dynamics, steering the ship and setting the team up for success by growing the business and capitalizing on market opportunities.  I have the great honor of working with a team of very talented, capable and successful professionals.

Could you talk of your leadership style?

I like to lead my team by example. I favor clear communication and goal setting based on detailed and shared plans. Employee engagement and transparency are the major drivers of my leadership style.

In my experience, hiring the best employees with diverse experiences and proper skill sets is perhaps the most critical step of team building. I look for traits and backgrounds that would strengthen and fill any gaps within the team.  Ultimately, great teams lead to great results.

Definitively, I don’t like micromanaging and would rather let each person’s ingenuity shine.

You have a lot of knowledge and experience with expansion joints. How has the technology evolved over the last 10-15 years?

I continue to learn everyday but certainly I do have a good understanding of how the different bridge expansion joints function, the various types and movements that joint systems are capable of handling, criteria for proper joint selection and overall best practices in terms of installation.

The expansion joint technology has evolved over the years to match new, complex bridge design standards and movement challenges but also to address the demands of time constraints and constructability of smaller bridges and the needs for the joints’ systematic maintenance, repair and replacement.

Watson Bowman Acme has always focused on innovation. We have a strong commitment toward meeting the most challenging industry requirements by designing enhanced features for our structural systems and providing the ability of engineering custom joint system solutions for specific projects. We strive toward the use of new materials that allow more movement capabilities, reduce installation time and increase ease of installation, especially for small movement joints and joint repairs.

What do you mean by small movement joints?

Expansion joints are categorized by movement. Small movement bridge joint’s seals and systems are typically designed to accommodate movement of 4 inches or less. There are a variety of small movement joints being utilized today that are manufactured with new materials that go beyond the traditional neoprene and steel technology. The innovative armorless joints address issues of time constraints during installation, constructability, and allow spot repairs instead of full joint replacement.

On the other hand, large movement joints are commonly used throughout the industry to address movements exceeding 4 inches and must meet updated AASHTO LRFD design criteria that address the various loadings and degrees of movement.   System validation and testing is often required to determine whether a large movement expansion joint is suitable to a specific bridge structure.  Frequently these large movement joints require performance evaluation in case of a seismic event.

It is said that most bridge preservation problems entail the deck, and most deck problems entail the joints. Could you speak of what can go wrong with bridge expansion joints and why?

Bridge structures present a lot of challenges with regard to the design and installation of the expansion joints. There are many reasons for these challenges. Bridge deck expansion joints are subject to various types of impact, a significant range of movements, exposure to harsh environments, and, of course, construction time constraints. Most common joint failures entail leakage, seal adhesion, seal damage due to debris, detachment and failure of the joint header, metal deterioration, and, lastly, impact damage.

Design and maintenance requirements for bridge expansion joints are not always met for a variety of reasons. From a design perspective, many DOTs have standards that were issued years ago and have not been updated since. In many instances these standards do not take into consideration the actual field conditions. When it comes to maintenance, repair or replacement projects, field conditions, such as deteriorated concrete substrate, are particularly important and can be detrimental to the proper installation of expansion joints. Also, many of the repair projects are being performed under challenging outdoor working conditions at night, in order to minimize traffic interruption.

I must underscore that in most cases, bridge expansion joints are not expected to last through the anticipated life of the bridge structure, but only a fraction of it. In order to meet the expected service life, expansion joints must be inspected, maintained, repaired, and replaced on a regular basis.

I know that expansion joints can get a bad rap. I do not agree with it. Failure can be avoided with proper design and preservation practices. Avoiding failure starts by choosing the right joint based on the conditions of each particular bridge structure.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a proper joint system selection. It should take into consideration first and foremost the joint movement and the limitations that define each joint system. Especially in the maintenance side, I see that when someone has a preference for a particular joint system, that system is installed everywhere. However, it is evident that there’s not one system that’s going to work for all applications.

An important part of the joint system selection is the evaluation of a proper joint sizing. Gap opening must be correlated with the knowledge of the movement range and the temperature of placement. Most standards and plans refer to the mid-range even though contactors are installing at various times throughout the year where the gap can be different rom the mid-range. That’s where understanding field sizing becomes very important.

In conclusion, choosing the right joint system based on the field conditions of the bridge deck is a critical step in order to prevent joint failures. Then the long-term performance of a bridge expansion joint is also going to depend on the quality of the initial construction and the concrete substrate, the type and quality of the joint seal and the lifetime field maintenance program.

You laid out the essential requirements to achieve full functionality of bridge deck expansion joints and avoid failures.  Could you summarize them?

Sure. When it comes to bridge expansion joints there are four critical areas that are essential in order to reach the designed service life and sustain high overall performance. The first entails the deck evaluation and surface preparation. A full understanding of the existing conditions of the deck, whether there are underlying problems or not, is very important.  Only when problems are properly evaluated in advance to joint installation, the design engineer is able to recommend an appropriate system solution.  Unfortunately, in many instances unknowns are a given for a bridge structure. Also, surface preparation is often an overlooked area where shortcuts are taken. Using the best designed systems and the most advanced performing materials available in the market can be meaningless if there are underlying issues and the substrate has not been properly prepared. Definitively, proper deck evaluation and preparation are essential factors in order to reach, and potentially extend, the life expectancy of bridge expansion joints.

Secondly, a careful attention must be given to the expansion joint header, its installation and the materials used. Amplified loading due to impact, especially on the far side of the joint length, requires materials that will not crack and remain flexible over time.

Thirdly, the joint selection process and the installation must be performed accurately according to specifications and taking into account the manufacturers’ recommendations. The selection process must consider deck movement plus deck joint opening, temperature plus time of installation and then proper positioning and placement.  All these three aspects of the process are equally important.

Lastly an essential requirement to avoid joint failures consists in the adoption of proactive rather than reactive bridge preservation strategies. Implementation of proactive strategies includes routine inspections and maintenance checks for the life of the joint and also a full understanding the limitations of the selected joint system.

When you consider the overall cost of building a bridge, the cost of expansion joints is in most cases negligible. However, when it comes to maintaining a bridge over time, expansion joints play a pivotal role, since their failure could contribute significantly to reducing the life expectancy of the bridge structure.

Watson Bowman Acme has been a National Industry Member of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership for many years. Has the affiliation with TSP2 been beneficial to your company and to you?

I was excited when TSP2 came into place in 2011 championing a proactive approach toward the preservation of bridges. For the first-time, TSP2 brought together industry, owners, and academia, who started exchanging knowledge, ideas, information and sharing best practices.

I have to give a high five to Ed Welch and John Hooks, who have run the bridge preservation program for the last 10 years. They really should be commended for their effort in this area.

Bridge expansion joints always get attention at the regional and national meetings of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership and they are part of roundtable peer exchange discussions. Needless to say, Watson Bowman Acme was one of the first National Members of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership.

I was involved early on with TSP2 as an industry director for the Western Bridge Preservation Partnership (WBPP). I was also the chair of the team that worked on developing the Bridge Expansion Joint Pocket Guide through the FHWA Bridge Preservation Expert Task Group (BP-ETG). The Guide, which provides a state-of-the-art knowledge about bridge expansion joint, is currently in a draft phase. I worked closely with Ralph Dornsife of Washington DOT and Tony Brake of Caltrans on the draft Pocket Guide, which encompasses every type of joint systems, including both large, medium and small movements, as well as best practices based on movement criteria.   There have been a number of funded research studies on bridge joints through NCHRP. Certainly, the SCAN Team Report NCHRP Project 20 68A has taken center stage as a reference document. The AASHTO New Small Bridge Expansion Joints Guide that stems from NCHRP 12-100 is regarded as reference document for small joints.

Through the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership, I have also got involved with the Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) programs, which provides a valuable opportunity to reach out to local and city county agencies. Definitively, being part of the TSP2 group has been beneficial to Watson Bowman Acme and to me personally.

Do you have any recommendations for the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership in order to increase the value that it provides to manufacturers like Watson Bowman Acme?

It would be great to have more contractors involved in the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership meetings along with different departments within the DOTs. I would love to see representatives from bridge design, construction, maintenance and materials at roundtables, sharing their perspectives and challenges. As an industry representative, I see a level of disconnection between the engineers who write policies, those who approve materials and technologies and those that oversee joint installations or the repair of joints.

I must underscore the importance of having contractors at the roundtables since they can certainly bring great depth to the discussion and awareness of problems. Awareness is the first step in fixing what isn’t working.

The outdoor demonstrations that are organized the National Meetings of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership provide a lot of valuable information to those who want to learn about best practices. The session that was organized at the last National Meeting that took place in Orlando in 2018 was outstanding from an industry perspective

Would you like to have outdoor demonstrations at the four annual Regional Partnership meetings of TSP2?

No, I am not advocating four demonstrations every year at each regional Bridge Preservation Partnership meeting of TSP2. I am satisfied with one outdoor demonstration session every four years at the National Meeting.  I was hoping to have the opportunity for the outdoor demonstration in 2022. However, the National Meeting, which brings together the four TSP2 Regional Partnerships, will not take place this year. I presume it was postponed due to the COVID pandemic.

Could you say a few words about things you enjoy doing in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

In my free time I love to garden. Whether ornamental or food, I find it satisfying and, at times, a good escape from the day’s challenges.

When the weather is nice, which is limited in Buffalo, NY, where I live, you will find me by the water. Buffalo is located on Lake Erie, which is a great place to find beach glass. I have jars of this washed-up treasure.

When time permits, I venture to the Finger Lakes region, which is about an hour and half from Buffalo. This region is famous for a number of elongated lakes that are surrounded by wineries. It is a wonderful place for boating and relaxation. I spend as much time there as possible.

 

LINKS

Watson Bowman Acme https://www.watsonbowmanacme.com/

AASHTO LRFD    https://aashtojournal.org/2020/05/08/aashto-issues-updated-lrfd-bridge-design-guide/

BP-ETG https://tsp2bridge.pavementpreservation.org/technical/fhwa/bp-etg/

NCHRP Project 20 68A Scan Report 17-03 https://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/SCAN17-03-13updated.pdf

AASHTO’s New Small Bridge Expansion Joints Guide https://aashtojournal.org/2021/05/21/aashto-publishes-new-small-bridge-expansion-joints-guide/

LTAP https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/ltap/

A Conversation with Larry Galehouse, Founder of NCPP and TSP2

Larry Galehouse, founder of NCPP and TSP-2

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Larry Galehouse, the founder of the National Center for Pavement Preservation (NCPP) and the Transportation System Preservation Technical Service Program (TSP-2), has been a champion for infrastructure preservation throughout his career.

He worked for 29 years at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he developed specifications, guidelines and processes aimed at extending the service life of highway pavements.  In 1996, he was appointed by MDOT to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) original Lead State Team to share Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) technologies.  At that time, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin were the leading states for pavement preservation.  This appointment was the start of Larry Galehouse’s long-lasting collaboration with AASHTO.

In 2003, he founded NCPP based on a collaborative agreement between Michigan State University and the Foundation for Pavement Preservation (FP2).  This effort was funded by many donors within the pavement preservation industry, the FHWA Office of Asset Management, and the University.  Under the AASHTO umbrella, Larry was instrumental in establishing the TSP-2 program, which is administered by NCPP.  The goal of both TSP-2 branches, Pavement Preservation and Bridge Preservation, is to disseminate information to AASHTO member agencies for preserving their highway infrastructures.  It essentially serves as a clearinghouse for comprehensive and up-to-date information focusing on preservation measures that can extend the service life of highways and bridges.  TSP-2 is organized through separate regional partnerships that draw professionals from state DOTs, local agencies, private industries, consulting firms, academia and FHWA.

I spoke with Larry about a variety of issues, ranging from his current commitment with NCPP to his vision for the future of TSP-2 Bridge Preservation.

As a leader with NCPP and TSP-2, could you provide an overview of your current responsibilities with these organizations?

I am the founder and Director Emeritus of NCPP.  Since I stepped down as the Executive Director and relocated in my home state of Michigan from East Lansing to Traverse City, I have been working for the Center remotely, on a half-time basis. This has allowed me to remain involved in several activities that I enjoy.

During my tenure as Executive Director, I founded a number of Pavement Preservation Councils that are designed to serve local road agencies.  To date there are Pavement Preservation Councils in Florida, Georgia/Carolina, and Missouri. There is a growing interest to establish additional councils soon (see LINK).  Each Council has Director that helps organize its activities.

Currently, I am providing webinar trainings on pavement preservation to the Florida Pavement Preservation Council (FPPC – See LINK).  Webinars are given on the last Wednesday of every month. Last year there were over 2,000 attendees that registered for these webinars.  The training sessions are organized through the Florida Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) located at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Most recently, I have invited Brian Mintz with Phoscrete Corp. to organize a couple of bridge preservation webinars in collaboration with FPPC and Florida LTAP.  The webinars were very well received, and more should be offered in the future.

I am also providing webinar training to the Missouri Pavement Preservation Council on the third Tuesday of each month, and to the Georgia/Carolina Pavement Preservation Council on the second Tuesday of each month.  Once the COVID pandemic fades away, pavement preservation in-person trainings will be offered again.

In addition to the training, do you do any other activity for the Center?

I administer the AASHTO TSP-2 Emulsion Task Force (ETF – See LINK).  Prior to the formation of the ETF, there were no standard specifications that were nationally recognized for pavement preservation treatments.  The ETF has developed AASHTO approved material and design practices for a number of surface treatments, such as chip seal, micro-surfacing, tack coat, fog seal, slurry seal, scrub seal, sand seal, ultra-thin bonded wearing course, and cold mixes.  In addition, the ETF has developed construction guide specifications and quality assurance guide specifications for chip seals, slurry systems, and fog seals.  This is a herculean effort from an all-volunteer workforce that gathers 61 members representing experts from agencies, industry, and academia.

Last year, the NCPP was awarded the NCHRP Project 20-44(26) for implementing construction guide specifications for chip seals, micro surfacing, and fog seals.  I am the project PI (Ed Note: Principal Investigator) and Neal Galehouse, my son, the Co-PI.  The project’s goal is to develop and execute an implementation plan that creates awareness of the construction guides.  This effort includes outreach, training, and demonstration projects.  To date, 24 agencies have committed to at least one demonstration project using the new construction guide specifications.  The interest from the agencies has really exceeded our expectations.

What is your leadership style? What is important for you as a leader?

I treasure my employees and trust them to do their job properly.  I follow their progress and, if necessary, assist them to overcome any barriers they may encounter. I’ve always believed the leader sets the tone and should lead by example.

I don’t like micro-managing.  I am convinced that professional people should be able to do their job without interference.  Everybody can see the outstanding job that Ed Welch and John Hooks have done for TSP-2 Bridge Preservation. They are true professionals.  It was important to stay out of their way and let them express their full potential.

Can you speak of the evolution of NCPP and TSP-2 from the beginning to today?

The NCPP was founded in 2003 as a not-for-profit organization under the umbrella of Michigan State University. We began with seed money from the pavement preservation industry, Michigan State University, and the FHWA Office of Asset Management.  The initial money was spent in the necessary update of our office with new plumbing, drywall, paint, carpet, and furniture.  After that, we had to generate revenue on our own since NCPP is not funded by the University. Revenue was initially generated from contracts and training as it continues to this day. We also get an annual stipend from FP2.  Michigan State University provides the IT support network and covers utility expenses.

The concept of a preservation partnerships was hatched while I was with the Michigan Department of Transportation after the year 2000 final meeting of the AASHTO Lead State Teams.  At the end of that meeting, Roger Olson of Minnesota DOT, Keith Herbold of FHWA, and I met, brainstormed, and agreed that the best way to move pavement preservation forward would have been to regularly exchange ideas between agencies, industry, and academia.  It was in that instance that the idea of a partnership was born.

To verify whether this idea would have worked, a partnership meeting was planned in April 2001 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The meeting attendance from the DOTs and industry was beyond our expectations. There was tremendous enthusiasm to continue with more partnership meetings.

After forming NCPP, the first Midwestern Pavement Preservation Partnership meeting was held in 2004 in East Lansing, Michigan.  The meeting was an overwhelming success.

With help from Jim Sorenson of FHWA, a meeting was held with Ken Kobetsky of AASHTO to establish TSP-2 Pavement Preservation.  After approvals were received from the AASHTO Board of Directors, the program was launched in 2006 and TSP-2 annual pavement partnership meetings started in 2007.

Once the pavement preservation partnerships were rolling, discussions began to expand the program to bridge preservation. In 2010, the TSP-2 bridge preservation program was officially launched.  I met with Ed Welch, who proved to be the ideal professional to lead the bridge preservation effort.  Ed, who came from New Hampshire DOT, worked tirelessly along with Steve Varnedoe, who was director with North Carolina DOT, to establish the bridge preservation partnerships.  We owe both men our thanks for building the bridge preservation partnership into a successful program.  A few years later, John Hooks and Darlene Lane joined the NCPP staff to continue building on the success of the program.

NCPP and TSP-2 are intertwined so that the success of one depends on the success of the other. Our staff is dedicated to the success of both programs, which can be measured through technical exchanges, enthusiasm, and meaningful deliverables.

What is the role of industry in NCPP and TSP-2?

The success of NCPP and TSP-2 is reliant on industry support.  Industry plays a major role in providing technical expertise and delivering innovative products.  Obviously, there are organizational differences between the pavement preservation and bridge preservation industries.  The pavement preservation industry is represented by associations, such as ARRA, AEMA, and ISSA (Ed Note: See below under Acronyms), that when combined, provide a strong voice on technical and policy issues.  On the other hand, there is not a dedicated industry association for bridge preservation, even though I believe the bridge preservation industry has matured enough to be represented by their own association.  It’s crucial that the bridge preservation industry establish an association, thus having a place at the table and its voice heard on national transportation policy.  It is in the national interest to preserve both our roads and bridges.

What is at the core of TSP-2?

I would say that networking and getting to know your peers is at the core of TSP-2.  When agencies, industry, and academia work together, a synergy emerges that better defines common needs and identifies solutions.  The progress made by the TSP-2 partnerships to advance the state of practice has been tremendous.

Are the partnerships the driving force behind the success of TSP-2?

Absolutely!  Maybe we should say that people are the driving force behind the partnerships and the partnerships are behind the success of TSP-2.

What is the major accomplishment that these two organizations, NCPP and TSP-2, achieved under your leadership?

The major accomplishment was actually starting these two organizations.  Both NCPP and TSP-2 were established from scratch with a huge investment of my time and money.  I did not have a playbook, only a vision.

In the process of establishing the NCPP, it took time and effort to build a collaboration between Michigan State University, the Michigan Legislature, FP2 representing the pavement industry, and the FHWA Office of Asset Management.  In order to start the TSP-2 program, a pivotal role was played by the Subcommittee on Maintenance that provided a tremendous support and was instrumental in getting the program’s approval from the AASHTO Board of Directors.

Would it be correct to say that you acted as if you were launching a startup?

Establishing NCPP was similar to starting a small business. Running the Center is still a little frightening because you’re always going forwards or backwards. Things never stay the same.  It’s important to transition into an entrepreneur role by relentlessly looking at opportunities for growth.

In 2023, in a little more than one year, NCPP will celebrate 20 years from when it was established. I think this is a huge satisfaction for you.

Yes, I feel good about it and I’m very proud of what’s been accomplished.

What do you envision for the future of TSP-2 bridge preservation?

I envision a bright future for bridge preservation program. I say this based on the enthusiasm I can experience at the partnership meetings and on conference calls.

In the next future I think it is important for the bridge preservation community to develop national standards to establish a common reference between the different types of treatments and repairs that can be used by bridge practitioners.  This would require the development of treatment/repair specifications for materials, design procedures, construction guides, and quality assurance guides through the AASHTO approval process.

I also think it is important for the bridge preservation community to continue its outreach to local agencies.  Many local agencies lack the expertise required for preserving their bridge investments through timely and cost-effective treatments and repairs.  I believe the partnership members have made great strides by creating awareness among local agencies of the importance of bridge preservation.

Training is a significant aspect of the outreach effort to local agencies. I think that the partnership members can fill the knowledge gap by offering their time and expertise to teach local agencies.  The NCPP is able to provide PDH/CEU credit through Michigan State University to structured training courses offered through the partnerships.  Training courses should be reasonably priced, but not free.

When you speak of national standards, do you refer to something similar to the pocket guides that the FHWA Expert Task Force Group has developed for a number of bridge preservation activities, or do you have something else in mind?

It’s my understanding that the FHWA Pocket Guides are a series of notes and checklists for a specific treatment or repair.  These should not be confused with national standards.

There have been national standard specifications for the construction of highway bridges for many years, but very little is available for bridge preservation.  AASHTO is the body that sets standards for roads and bridges by approving and publishing specifications and construction guidelines.  The importance of standards cannot be overstated.  These are formal technical documents that establish uniform methods, processes, and practices.  Standards are written by a professional group of subject matter experts familiar with the technical field.

Who should lead the development of AASHTO standards for bridge preservation?

I believe expertise exists within the ranks of the TSP-2 Bridge Preservation Partnerships. Some members have significant knowledge and experience with certain treatments, while others possess expertise with alternative types of treatments.

Creating standard specifications for a bridge preservation treatment, such as bridge deck coating, includes the development of several standards, such as the material specification, the design practice specification, the construction guide specification, and the quality assurance specification.

The approval of a new standard specification by AASHTO is a long and laborious process that sometimes takes several years.  As soon as a specification is written, it goes through a series of reviews and resolution of reviewer comments until it is voted on for approval by the 50 states. A standard specification is approved if it receives 2/3 affirmative votes. Because of the strenuous approval process, AASHTO standards have considerable credibility.

Once AASHTO standard specifications for bridge preservation are available, states may choose to adopt a complete standard or incorporate portions of it in their state specifications.  In both cases, adopting an AASHTO standard establishes uniform engineering and technical criteria for methods, processes, and practices.

Bridge preservation standard specifications by AASHTO would definitively give a lot of credibility to the bridge preservation community.

Who should write the AASHTO national standard specifications for bridge preservation?

It should be a collaborative effort by experts from the bridge preservation community representing agencies, industry, consultants, and academia.  It’s critical that the drafting of standard specifications run smoothly.  To do so, I recommend appointing two champions, one from an agency and the other from the industry, who would be responsible for keeping the project on track.

Creating national standard specifications for bridge preservation would literally plant the flag for the work of future generations of bridge preservation practitioners.

Could you share something about your personal life? What you like to do in your free time? And what is your favorite book, and film?

I’m married with two grown sons and one grandson.  Obviously, family is an important part of my life. I thoroughly enjoy travel both domestically and internationally.  Whenever the time allows, I enjoy hunting, fishing, and boating.  I find the Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series books very interesting and educational.  The only movies that interest me are based on true stories.

 

LINKS
Pavement Preservation Councils
Florida Pavement Preservation Council
Missouri Pavement Preservation Council
Georgia Carolina Pavement Preservation Council
AASHTO TSP2 Emulsion Task Force

Acronyms
ARRA (Asphalt Recycling and Reclaiming Association)
AEMA (Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association)
ISSA (International Slurry Surfacing Association)

A Conversation with Ferdinando Cannella

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Ferdinando Cannella, PhD, Head of the Industrial Robotic Unit at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology)

This post is dedicated to the innovative, robotic solutions for cleaning and inspection that were implemented in the new construction of the San Giorgio Bridge, in Genoa, Italy (see LINKS)

This major urban bridge (Pics. #1 and #2) replaced the Morandi Bridge over the Polcevera river that dramatically collapsed on August 14, 2018 taking the lives of 43 people. The new San Giorgio bridge, which was inaugurated on August 3, 2020 with the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, in attendance, was built in 13 months through a collective effort that encompassed the work of 330 companies and 1000+ people.

Pic #1: San Giorgio bridge at the Inauguration Day (from 105.net)

Pic #2: San Giorgio bridge at Night (from AdnKronos)

The architectural design of the San Gorgio Bridge is the work of the Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) design firm (see LINKS) based in Genoa, which is led by the renowned designer, Renzo Piano. Genoa is a major harbor on the Mediterranean Sea that gave birth to so many seamen, not to mention the likes of Christopher Columbus. Setting up an ideal connection between the bridge and the essential maritime character of the city of Genoa, Piano designed the box steel girder supporting the deck with a unique elliptical shape that resembles the keel of a ship. The girder, whose components were  built at different Italian shipyards, continuously spans for 1067 metres (3,501 ft) over 18 reinforced concrete piers. The continuity of the girder is allowed by an advanced bearing system that isolates the continuous girder from the piers and also protects the bridge against potential seismic activity.

Between the many outstanding qualities of Renzo Piano, there is his willingness to embrace the most advanced construction technologies. He has been known to speak of maintenance as an act of “care” toward bridges and buildings that ultimately make them last long. In the case of the San Giorgio Bridge, he combined his focus on advanced technologies and his emphasis on maintenance by envisioning the use of mobile robots permanently installed on the bridge deck. Renzo Piano discussed the idea with Roberto Cingolani, who was the Scientific Director of Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology – IIT) (see LINKS), also based in Genoa. Then the task of bringing Piano’s vision to fruition was taken by the Industrial Robotic Unit (IRU) of IIT, which is accustomed to working with industry.

I reached out to the Head of the IRU, Ferdinando Cannella. Not only did he create the robot for cleaning that was requested by Piano, so-called RoboWash, but he also ideated a second robot for performing inspections, named RobotInspection. Ferdinando (see LINKS) graduated in mechanical engineering from Marche Polytechnic University, has a PhD from Padua University in Mechanical Measurements and a second PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Marche Polytechnic University with the entire robotics program developed at King’s College in London, UK, under supervision of Prof. Jian Dai.

I had an extensive conversation with Ferdinando about the RoboWash and the RobotInspection. During the conversation I also learnt that we come from the same Marche region of Italy and, quite unexpectedly, graduated from the same Marche Polytechnic University.

Could you briefly describe the two robots, the RobotInspection and the RoboWash, that are installed on the San Giorgio bridge?

Both the RobotInspection and the RoboWash (Pic. #3) move longitudinally along the rails placed at the two sides of the deck making a total of four robots. The two robots look distinctively different from one another.

Pic #3: RobotInspection and RoboWash (from 105.net)

The RoboWash is a compact robot (Pics #4 and 5) designed for cleaning fully autonomously three glass surfaces: the wind barriers (on the two sides) and the solar panels (see Pic. #6). It weights approximately 2000 kg (4409 lbs.), which are distributed on 56 wheels. It is 3,5 meters (11 ft) tall, 8 meters (26 ft) long and consists of two parts, one for the actual cleaning and the other for energy recharging.

Pic #4: RoboWash: Brushes (from Camozzi)

Pic #5: RoboWash: Movement along the Rails (from WeBuild)

Pic #6: Photovoltaic Panels along the Edge of the Deck (from Arca International)

The RobotInspection is essentially a carbon fiber beam with a fixed section and a retractable one. When the retractable beam is fully elongated, the RobotInspection reaches 17 meters (56 ft) in length (Pic. #7). The robot weighs 2200 kg (4850 lbs.); it is 7-meters (23 ft) wide and is anchored to the rails with 56 wheels. Another 26 wheels are in place for moving the retractable beam. The robot moves at a rate of 100-150 mm/s (20-30 fpm) over the rails. This is the same speed as the RoboWash.

The RobotInspection was not envisaged by the designer of the bridge. It was actually my idea.  When I was told that the designer wanted to install a robot for washing the sound-barriers and the solar panels, I raised a question: “Why don’t we take advantage of the rails for RoboWash to add another moving robot that would inspect the bridge deck?” After some initial hesitance and a lot of work, that idea became reality.

Pic #7: Inspection Bot: Full Extension of the Retractable Beam (from italian.tech)

As reported in the bridge’s inspection manual, the RobotInspection is responsible for fully autonomously monitoring the exterior of the steel girder. This is the robot’s primacy compared to current robots in use. As an additional feature, this robot is also suitable for a semi-autonomous inspection of the bearings.

How does the RoboWash work?

This RoboWash removes dust and other contaminants from the glass surfaces of the two sides of the wind barrier and the photovoltaic panels that supply power to the RoboWash itself and to the bridge’s utility components, such as the dehumidifiers that are installed inside the steel box girder, in the proximity of the inspection catwalk.

The RoboWash is a self-sustained system that uses rain water and condensation water collected on the glass. The robot does not use any detergent, thus preventing the risk of chemical pollution of the Polcevera river due to runoff. If rain is scarce or condensation is low, the RoboWash uses a device similar to a fan to blow off the dust accumulated on the glass surfaces.

Who sets up the RoboWash to work?

The RoboWash is operated by the bridge personnel that starts and stops it. This robot does not have the capacity to start moving autonomously, based, for example, on sensors that monitor the weather conditions. It is the bridge personnel that must “tell” the robot to work when the bridge is free of  road hazards, collisions, maintenance work, high level winds and any other condition that can interfere with its routine. However, the RoboWash is embedded with sensors that monitor the level of transparency of the glass and the amount of water that is present on its surface. Through these parameters, the RoboWash can recognize the ideal conditions for cleaning the glass.

The RoboWash is programmed to operate only in the safest conditions. For example, in case of high winds exceeding 50 Km/hr. (31 mph), the robot automatically terminates its routine and returns to its parking area. The robot has also the capability of calculating the amount of energy needed to reach the next recharging station. The stations are spaced 200-meters (656 ft) apart from one another along the rails.

It might be of interest to know that the RoboWash is equipped with a system that keeps the robot at a consistent distance from the glass panels of the sound barriers as it rides on the rails. The robot has therefore the ability to compensate for geometrical misalignments that may occur over time because of structural settlements and/or temperature changes, and/or other causes.

Can you explain how the RobotInspection functions?

The fixed and retractable sections of the RobotInspection monitor the outer surface of the steel box girder, which has an elliptical shape, by taking approximately 20000 pictures over the 30.000 m2 (322,917 sq. ft) of outer surface of the girder.  The RobotInspection has the ability to take up to 25000 photos in a few days if weather and light permit.

The retractable beam is equipped with 3 cameras that have the capacity to scan the full outer surface of the steel girder (Pic #8). Scanning proceeds from the top level to the bottom level of the girder, which can only be reached when the retractable beam is fully extended. Essentially the RobotInspection works as a scanner taking photos of the outer surface of the steel box girder. Each photo covers a surface of approximately 1 m2 (11 sq. ft).

By analyzing the photos taken by the RobotInspection, bridge maintenance expert personnel can detect early signs of deterioration, such as paint flacking and/or steel corrosion. They can also examine the conditions of welding and connections. What sets this monitoring system apart from conventional inspection methods is the sheer amount of information collected and, even more importantly, the total objectivity of data. When photos are compared over time, there is total consistency of information due to the fact that photos are taken by the same equipment, at the same distance, and at the same angle. This level of data accuracy, consistency and repeatability cannot be achieved by drones or by inspections carried out by individuals, whose reporting always contains subjective elements of evaluation. Even if inspections are carried out by the same individual, this individual cannot guarantee that two or more reports will not be somehow affected by his, or her, subjectivity.

Pic #8: Cameras on the Retractable Beam of the RobotInspection (from Camozzi)

Does the RobotInspection have other functions in addition to scanning the outer bottom of the steel girder?

Yes, the RobotInspection can be equipped with an additional retractable beam that is connected to the retractable section of the main beam. The main beam is a huge structure (see Pic #9) that can carry up to 80 kg (176 lbs.) on its end. The additional beam has the ability of moving toward the surface of the steel girder to the point of touching it. It is designed to carry specialized instruments, such as 3D camera and ultrasound sensors that can provide in-depth information of steel imperfections. Ideally, in the future, the additional beam could also be equipped with instruments for painting and touching up.

The additional beam is designed to be used ad hoc. For example, if pictures taken by the main beam show 3 or 4 anomalies in the girder’s steel surface, then the owner has the capability of using the additional beam to evaluate these anomalies. If one of these anomalies remains questionable after the second inspection, then it is time to send an inspector. As a result, the robot has reduced the use of inspectors to a bare minimum, thus lowering costs and risks.

Pic #9: Size of the Transversal Beams of the RobotInspection (from Building CuE)

How frequently does the RobotInspection operate?

It is the bridge owner, ASPI (Ed. Note: ASPI is the largest Italian toll road operator, managing a network of 3000 km/1,864 miles in Italy) that decides on the frequency of use of the RobotInspection. Based on my knowledge, this robot operates from one to two times per year.

It takes a few days for the RobotInspection to complete the full inspection of the continuous girder. This time varies depending on weather conditions. The robot is equipped with sensors that stop its functioning in conditions of extreme weather, such as heavy rain or wind gusts of more than 15 meters/second (34 miles/hr.). The RobotInspection also stops working if the light is not sufficient to take pictures.  Having a memory, the robot resumes operating from where it stopped. This ability is also present in the RoboWash

How is data gathered by the RobotInspection processed and stored?

The large number of 2D pictures taken by the RobotInspection are sent in real time to the data base of the bridge’s Control Center, which is equipped with a custom-designed software that contains algorithms for data analysis and storage.

The RobotInspection is considered part of the monitoring system of the bridge, which also encompass more than 240 sensors that are embedded in the bridge structure and monitored by Seastema (see LINKS). These sensors include 70 inclinometers, 50 accelerometers, and 50 extensometers.

What can you say about the maintenance program for the RobotInspection?

It is part of the overall maintenance program for the bridge. In addition to ordinary maintenance, before the robot starts its round of inspections, the bridge operator must go through a check list, similar to what happens when an airplane takes off. The robots are parked in a dedicated area. Before they start operating, the bridge operator must reach this area and go through a check list, similar to what happens when an airplane takes off.

 Can you talk about main challenges encountered in the design and construction of the two robots?

There were many challenges for sure. First, the San Giorgio bridge is the replacement of a heavily trafficked urban bridge in Genoa. Due to the collapse of the previous bridge, transportation of goods going in and out the harbor of Genoa was delayed, trucks had to drive through villages and small towns, which created all sort of problems. The situation was not sustainable. It was essential to build the new bridge as soon as possible.  Time constraint was definitely a challenge that extended from the construction of the bridge to the construction of the robots.

We worked under a tight schedule, but also under the radar because everybody was paying attention to the construction of the San Giorgio bridge, at both local and national level.  The collapse of the Morandi bridge with its tragic loss of life was such a huge tragedy that propelled a strong emotional need among the Genoese people, and the Italians, to have a strictly monitored state-of-the-art bridge as a replacement.

Envisioning a new, innovative technology is always a major challenge. We did not have one single reference project for the design of the robots. To my knowledge there are no bridges worldwide that have autonomous robots permanently installed on the deck. Usually, robots are fixed elements that work in interior, protected environments. On the other hand, for this bridge we had to design robots that move constantly and work outside, in the open air, and therefore are subject to a variety of ambient conditions, such as rain, hail and wind. This technological invention was subsequently patented by IIT.

Even though this invention originated from the IRU group, IIT did not have the capability to build robots at Technological Readiness Level 8 (TEL8), which is the level required for  equipment installed in production plants. So, when we started designing the robots, we sought out companies whose specialties would have helped us.  A pivotal role was played by INNSE Berardi (Camozzi Group – Brescia, Italy) (see LINKS) that led the project, handled the design and construction of the control part of the robots, and also assembled and installed them. INNSE Berardi set up a mockup in their plant (see Pic #10) where we could test the robots before installation over the bridge.

In the design process, we took the key decision to start from the most critical component, which is the support for the robots, I mean the mechanism that allows the robots to move and stand. In order to face this challenge, we brought in a reputable partner in SDA Engineering from Padua, Italy (see LINKS), which is specialized in the construction of roller coasters. So, essentially, we ended up designing two roller coaster rails placed longitudinally along the two edges of the deck. In doing so, we were definitively helped by the fact that the girder has no joints and runs continuously from abutment to abutment.

The deck of the San Giorgio bridge can sway significantly under the high winds that frequently occur in Genoa. This was an additional challenge in the design of the robots and their measuring instruments.

As it would be expected, safety issues were given top priority in the design. Between the various safety measures, we equipped the four robots with sensors that make them stop immediately if they come in contact with somebody that, for whatever reason, enters the highly protected area where they operate. These features are called “Cognitive Mechatronics”, systems that provide the robots with the capability of making decisions, such as stopping a task depending on environmental conditions.

Finally, a considerable challenge entailed creating a dedicated code for the so-called secondary structure entailing the robots and implementing it within the Italian bridge construction code. This code does not encompass the presence of large moving objects that are permanently installed on a bridge. The bridge’s certification body had to work hard in order to create an appendix for the robots, as secondary structures to be included in the bridge construction code and within its safety requirements.

Pic. #10: Mockup at INNSE Berardi facilities for testing the robots before installing them on the San Giorgio Bridge – (From Camozzi)

You have spoken of Camozzi Group and SDA Engineering. Could you go through the entire team that worked on the robots’ project?

The robots are definitively the result of a team effort that involved people from several companies having cutting-edge knowledge and competence in their field.

In addition to Camozzi Group and SDA Engineering that I mentioned before, the team included UBISIVE (see LINKS) from Civitanova Marche that created the man-machine software interface, Marche Polytechnic University (see LINKS) that envisioned and developed the Artificial Intelligence applications, Valeri Vanni consulting (see LINKS) that was in charge of certification of conformity with the Italian bridge construction code and safety regulations.

Essential team members were also AMS – Advanced Mechanical Solutions (see LINKS) that designed the main retractable beam of the RobotInspection and Ingersoll (see LINKS), which is part of the Camozzi Group.

In cooperation with the University of South Carolina and VX Aerospace Corporation, Ingersoll built the RobotInspection’s beams in fiber reinforced polymer having the high-rigidity / low-weight ratio that was requested by the bridge designer. The beams are actually carbon fiber, aerospace-type structure. Ingersoll used a 3D equipment called MasterPrint 3X that allows programming, simulating, 3D printing and milling large composite parts in a single piece. This equipment reduced the overall lead time for the construction of the two RobotInspections from months to weeks, and played an essential role in shortening the construction schedule. From the U.S. the composite beams were air freighted to Milan, Italy.

We worked in a coordinated manner with the General Contractor, PerGenova consortium of two companies: Webuild (see LINKS) and Fincantieri Infrastructure (see LINKS), as well as with the structural designer, Italferr (see LINKS).

Can you provide any information about the costs of the project?

The IIT donated the concept and the design of the RobotInspection and the RoboWash  to the city of Genoa. The design entailed the work of 2 people over a period of 18 months. It is important to underscore that Renzo Piano also donated the design of the bridge to his native city of Genoa.

LINKS

AMS – Advanced Mechanical Solutions – Robots: Design of the Retractable Arm for the RobotInspection
Fincantieri – Bridge Construction Contractor
Fincantieri – Seastema – Monitoring and supervision of all the utility infrastructure
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genoa-Saint_George_Bridge
Ingersoll (Camozzi Group) – Robots: Construction of the RobotInspection 
INNSE Berardi (Camozzi Group)
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology – IIT)
Italferr – Bridge  Engineering Design
Italian Institute of Technology
Renzo Piano Building Work (RPBW) – Bridge Architectural Design
SDA Engineering – Robots: Rail System
UBISIVE – Robots: Man-machine Software Interface 
Universita’ Politecnica Marche – Robots: Artificial Intelligence
Vanni Valeri Consulting – Robots: Consistency with Construction Code and Safety Regulations
Video: https://news.camozzi.com/projects/the-creation-process-of-the-robots-for-the-new-bridge-in-genoa.kl
WeBuild – Bridge Construction Contractor

A Conversation with Dale Mortensen, with Washington Rock Quarries

Dale Mortensen, National Sales Director with Armorstone

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

US industries are facing issues related to widespread worker shortage, material scarcity and supply chain delays. The bridge preservation industry also finds itself facing many of these same challenges.

To better understand the intricacies of these challenges, I spoke with Dale Mortensen, National Sales Director with Washington Rock Quarries, Inc., a company that has been involved with bridge preservation for over 10 years. Among the other products that they sell, Washington Rock supplies Armorstone, an aggregate that enhances friction surface for bridge deck overlays and road surfacing installations.

Dale runs the Armorstone division for Washington Rock Quarries and is responsible for all 50 US States. Dale, who graduated in 1999 with a business degree in Marketing from Utah State University, is fond of golf, mountain biking and the outdoors, an experience that he shares with his wife and five children.

At a recent TSP2 monthly conference call for the Western Bridge Preservation Partnership you spoke of the global supply crisis that has been affecting bridge deck overlay projects. Is this crisis also affecting the Armorstone products? Is it related to a particular type of aggregate, such as the bauxite? Or is the issue more complex?

It is definitively a more complex issue than the cost of the bauxite aggregate itself. During the call I said that there is a major transportation crisis in the aggregate industry. The cost for freight, both truck and rail, has increased so much that the price for aggregate has become secondary. Even if my company was able to keep the same price as last year for the products that I promote, contractors would still pay up to three times as much because of the increase in shipping costs. There are several reasons for this increase. The biggest one entails trucking. There is definitively a shortage of truck drivers. From what we were told by the trucking industry, in the last year and half over 100,000 truck drivers have either retired or left the industry. At first many truckers didn’t have enough work because of the COVID pandemic. As a result, they stopped working and got paid through unemployment. Now that the economy has reopened, many drivers have not come back to work. The shortage of truck drivers combined with the high demand for materials that we are experiencing post-COVID has brought trucking costs way up.

Shipping cost increase is not limited to trucking though. Since trucking is so congested, many companies have turned from trucks to rail thus making rail shipping also congested. Railways typically have their busy seasons between September and January, which is the time between the holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are telling us that they have as much business now as during the busy season and consequently, prices have soared. The bottom line is that our customers are calling us and asking why a transportation price quoted, for example, at $2,000 six months ago, is now doubled to $4,000.

Can you make an example of shipping cost increase related to your products?

We primarily use trucks for shipping in the West. We hardly ever ship anything other than full truckloads since shipping a partial load and a full load is about the same cost. As an example, last year we were quoted about $2,400 freight cost for shipping a full truckload of approximately 22,000 lbs. of aggregate material from Washington State to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This year we’re getting prices of approximately $4,700 for the same amount of material, route, and delivery location.

When we ship by rail, we use a rail car, which carries approximately 21 tons.  The price for rail cars has also increased substantially. We are seeing a transportation cost of $3,000 that we were quoted last year raised to $4,500 this year. Just as an example, the cost from Washington to Indiana, where we ship quite a lot of material, has gone from $3,200 last year to $4,700 this year.

How are your customers, the contractors, reacting to this cost increase?

I participated in the TSP2 call to respond to a request from one of my customers, a contractor, who wanted me to speak with the DOTs. Contractors are asking the DOTs to allow for a change order based on increased transportation costs. This will allow them to keep projects going. If the DOTs refuse to accept a cost readjustment and they want contractors to stick to the original contract price, contractors can end up losing money for bridge deck overlay and road projects because of shipping costs. Nobody could have foreseen this situation.

Is price increase also affecting international shipping?

Certainly, the shipping crisis is global. It is well known that the worldwide COVID pandemic has created the set of circumstances our industry is currently facing. Because of the pandemic many factories in China either shut down or drastically reduced their productivity, from 100% to as low as 20%. When running at 20%, these companies weren’t exporting as much, which reduced US market availability of many materials used in the construction industry. Moreover, the pandemic created a worldwide shortage of shipping containers. At first, China started exporting a large quantity of products related to protection from COVID, such as cleaning supplies, masks, and gloves. China shipped containers filled with these products all over the world, including countries where they had never shipped to on a regular basis, such as Australia, Panama, and New Zealand. The fact that these countries have limited export along with the need for ships to return to China quickly in order to deliver COVID protective equipment to other parts of the world, resulted in many containers staying in these countries and not returning to China. The bottom line is that we are experiencing a massive shortage of containers globally. As of now, there are simply not enough containers to ship to places.

Has this global shortage of containers affected your business?

It affected Washington Rock Quarries greatly. We weren’t able to get by container one of our key products, the bauxite, an aggregate that we don’t manufacture but we purchase from China. Due to the shortage of containers, the cost for shipping bauxite from China to the Port of Tacoma more than tripled. This has priced us out of the market.

In order find a different way to ship the bauxite, we ended up moving materials via barge. Unfortunately, the Port of Tacoma, where we normally import our bauxite to, doesn’t allow for barges to unload there. We had to ship to another state which resulted in more steps and increased costs. We want to get back to shipping to Washington via containers ASAP. However, we do not think this will be an option until late 2021

Due to the increased cost to move material by trucks and railway cars, in addition to the shortage of containers, you have been forced to increase the price of your materials to contractors. How are contractors reacting to the price increase?

As I mentioned earlier, contractors are asking the DOTs to revise costs of the projects that were bid prior to the pandemic. If prices are not revised, contractors are running the risk of losing money with these projects. When DOTs ask contractors to hold to their original quote, then contractors are coming back to us asking to cut prices. Unfortunately, we do not have enough wiggle room in our margins to make up the difference for these increased freight prices. As a matter of fact, we would prefer not to be involved with the shipping business altogether. We only provide transportation as a service to our customers.

Are you expecting the shipping crisis to end any time soon?

With the pandemic slowing down in certain parts of the world, the business is coming back very fast. A lot of material is currently being shipped from China and Taiwan. However, I do not see the recovery of the shipping side of the business coming back as fast. The large amount of materials that are being manufactured is actually worsening the shipping crisis. It is causing a huge backlog. There are not enough containers, or truck drivers, or railway cars to move materials.

An article published by the New York Times states that that we may end up experiencing some of these difficulties all the way into 2023 before seeing a correction in the market.

If this is true, what should manufacturers and contractors do to stay in business for 2 years with limited or no profit?

Looking forward to next year contractors will have to bid with the idea that costs could be much higher than they are now. Both manufacturers and contractors will have to include uncertainty into their price.

Concerning bridge deck overlay projects, this uncertainty is not limited to the aggregate that we supply but includes all the other components, such as equipment, supplies, parts and epoxy. It is an all-encompassing problem that affects all suppliers for bridge deck overlays, who provide materials and equipment.

Let me underscore that this current crisis is not limited to bridge deck overlays and the bridge preservation industry. There’s a shortage in almost every industry right now. It is even difficult to buy a new car since manufacturers are having problems getting computer chips. And this is just one of the many examples I can give.

 

LINKS

Armorstone®

https://www.wa-rock.com/product_category/armorstone/

From the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/business/global-shipping.html?referringSource=articleShare

A Conversation with Drew Storey, Account Executive at The Kercher Group

Drew and his family at a football game supporting Purdue

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Drew Storey has such an outgoing personality and extensive knowledge of many aspects of bridge preservation that speaking with him has always been a pleasant and instructive experience for me. I had the opportunity to talk again with Drew a few days ago for the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Blog. My conversation with him marks the restarting of my collaboration with TSP2 after almost one year of hiatus from the Blog.

Drew as a unique, multi-faceted perspective of bridge preservation that stems from a unique experience. After working over 10 years for Indiana DOT focusing on bridge preservation and maintenance, he then moved to the private sector, where he got a position as Account Executive for Bridges and Structures at The Kercher Group, a company specialized in infrastructure asset management. In parallel to this professional activity, he has been serving for several years as Council Member with City of Seymour in Indiana, where he lives. In this position he has been dealing with infrastructure plans and budget.

Could you speak of the motivations that are behind your professional career? What are the pivotal moments in your career path?

I did enjoy my time serving Indiana DOT. I worked under some very bright and motivating individuals, who gave me more than I bargained for and just enough rope to be dangerous. Their leeway allowed me to explore, develop, and innovate many state-of-the-art practices for bridge maintenance, preservation, and asset management. It wasn’t always easy though. Being the young underdog sometimes I failed, but, luckily, most of the times, I “failed forward”, as one of my supervisors used to say. This means that each time I failed I learned something new. Now I am able to reflect on those experiences and use them to make better decisions in my current position with The Kercher Group.

Just about 6 months after leaving Indiana DOT, I started to realize that my job with the DOT filled my cup with the sense of being a public servant. I guess I took it for granted that the work I was doing had an impact on so many people. I wanted to continue to serve the community. I joined a few non-profit organizations, began serving in my church in a much larger capacity, and later I decided to run for a City Council office in my hometown.

When I joined The Kercher Group two years ago, I was really excited with the opportunity to gain a different perspective on bridge preservation, to learn from this new experience, and to bring my knowledge to the table. I now frequently sit in meetings with customers that have never tackled the preservation work. I can take advantage of my past experience with Indiana DOT, lean back to it, and share my preservation expertise with them. I also bring to the table my typical work attitude, which is to get things done and not to fear trying new solutions.

Can you make an example of an innovative solution that you tried when you were working for Indiana DOT?

We were having a real hard time finding contractors that were willing, or even able, to remove drift piles. I had reached out to the preservation network and found out that up in the north-east they were using small floating rigs for this purpose. They put rigs in the water and sent out guys to pull out the drift. This solution however could not be applied to our region, where our big rivers have swift waters. It was simply something we could not do.

Then I learned that in the state of Louisiana they used cranes in order to remove the drift. I liked the idea of using a crane, but I needed something that was way more mobile than traditional cranes. So, I reached out to my colleagues that work on roadways, not necessarily on bridges. They were using wrecker companies with really large crane wreckers for installs of pipes, end sections, and even wall repairs. We came up with a way to procure their services for bridges, defined a plan of actions, and also partnered with Purdue University in order to capture time-lapse videos of how this was going to work.

We tested this solution in the field. We closed a bridge lane for a couple of hours, brought the crane wrecker in and removed a few logs. It worked really well. It was a good solution to the driftwood problem for Indiana DOT. And it was also good business for the wrecker companies that got new work that was outside of their traditional contract scope.

Wrecker companies were used to working on the highway, setting up in precarious situations and having to move very quickly. Their expertise matched our bridge needs of driftwood removal. This is an example of thinking out the box that allowed Indiana DOT to find a solution that was innovative, effective and safe.

Use of a Crane Wrecker to Remove Driift Logs

Earlier on you spoke of yourself at Indiana DOT as underdog. Why?

I mentioned being an underdog because I am not a professional engineer. I really had to climb the ladder. I recall being called out on jobs or into meetings, where oftentimes I was the only person that was not a licensed engineer. However, many times I was the guy they looked up to in order to get answers to problems.

I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t be licensed to be in bridge preservation and to do the work that we do. I am just saying that it is not necessary to have that license to be a good preservation practitioner.

You are a passionate supporter of bridge preservation. You have been involved with TSP2 bridge preservation from its beginning throughout the different steps of your career. How has bridge preservation evolved during the last 10 years?

I must say it has been such a thrill to see bridge preservation move from being a new, innovative idea to a mainstream component of any asset management plan.

When I started following the Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership, expert people, who were long in the tooth, were pushing a new effort toward bridge preservation. Today those folks are some of my most trusted advisors. I am happy to be one of those that continue supporting this effort, which has started showing significant progress.

Before TSP2 it was very difficult for me at Indiana DOT to find trusted advisors who could share their experience about using a product or a technology. This kind of service simply wasn’t available to me. After the Partnership I was able to count on a network of people who could support me from both the DOT and the industry side.

I must say that industry partners have embraced TSP2 bridge preservation and done such a nice job of retooling and providing enhanced access to training, guidance, and specifications, which make it easier for Agencies to spin up very quickly.

Industry partners are also a key part of TSP2 effort to reach out to Local Agencies, such as Cities, Counties and Municipalities. Through the Local Agency Outreach Committee, TSP2 is speaking to Local Agencies all across the country, underscoring the value of preservation and helping them make progress toward preservation. Ten years ago, we would have never dreamt that we would reach out to Local Agencies and find them so receptive and willing to move into preservation as quickly.

How has your perspective of bridge preservation changed from being a bridge preservation insider working for Indiana DOT to being involved with The Kercher Group?

This is a tough one to answer. I do not think that my perspective on bridge preservation has dramatically changed since I started working for The Kercher Group. I strive to continue seeing things through the lens of the Agencies and the eyes of the people who are closest to the struggle, since I believe these people make the best decisions. I put my old Indiana DOT hardhat on, you know the one with all the scratches, every time I can and I work to be a part of the client’s preservation team.

My role at The Kercher Group is to provide guidance to my clients, which is much like the role I served at Indiana DOT, where Districts and field staff leaned on me to get guidance or direction related to bridge maintenance and preservation issues.

My role is also to be a trusted advisor for the clients of The Kercher Group. In this role I help them develop skills that allows clients to manage problems on their own. I can say that I make a really good splash with an Agency when I teach their people to “fish on their own”. Here is where I feel as if my perspective may have changed slightly. From providing guidance at Indiana DOT, with The Kercher Group I have become a trusted advisor that helps Agencies develop new skills.

As I said before, I believe the best decisions are made by the people that are closest to the work. In Lean Six Sigma, we would call that “connecting with gemba”, “gemba” means “the place where value is created”. It is proved that these people can make the best decisions on how to solve problems in a long-lasting way.

What is your outlook of bridge preservation as a City Council Representative? From what I know, the Council deals with major projects and infrastructure improvements.

First, I would like to step away from focusing on bridges for a moment. Although my initial exposure to preservation was in bridges and culverts, I was able to expand my area of interest within Indiana DOT. With each promotion I got exposure to new types of assets, where true preservation practices were needed.

I like to find the root causes of problems by applying the “The 5 Whys” methodology. This is one of my favorite exercises. Most frequently, at the end of “The 5 Whys” analysis, it boils down to the fact that the owner does not have a good asset management plan.

While preservation at Indiana DOT has come a long way since when I was employed there, Local Agencies, like the City of Seymour, have struggled to put effective strategic preservation plans into place. Oftentimes, elected officials concentrate on major projects or on taking care of the worst ones first. People want to hear about these types of projects. Also, these projects make headlines which elected officials like to rally around. Unfortunately, preservation tends not to be all that headline worthy. At City of Seymour I try to reverse this trend and I do focus on changing culture. I help build and implement asset management plans that are dedicated to preservation, which is generally a very effective and sustainable practice. Being able to gear local policies toward effectiveness and sustainability is very rewarding for me as a public servant.

Based on your experience as a City Council Representative, is the general public aware of bridge preservation? If so, do they support bridge preservation policies?

I believe the general public hasn’t heard the word preservation enough to develop awareness. Neither people have seen their respective Local Agencies developing infrastructure policy around the preservation idea.

The general public has an expectation that Transportation Agencies will do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time, and want to be informed about it. As a result, I am seeing more and more Agencies providing a constant flow of information through their favorite media outlets, such as newspapers and social media. These outlets can be used for some powerful, pointed messaging. Agencies should capture communication opportunities in order to promote preservation, for example by showcasing good case studies where the positive impact of preservation can be emphasized.

While it is not the only way, communication is certainly an essential mean for giving the general public the transparency into decision making practices that are based on the preservation principles.

In your opinion what are the major challenges that bridge preservation may face in the next 5 years?

I was speaking to a couple university faculty members recently about their perspective on preservation. They were quick to point out their support for preservation and how they consider asset management planning as an essential element in order to implement preservation strategies. However, they were just as quick to describe how they have not necessarily designed curriculum around the idea of “taking care of what you have”. Without a dedicated curriculum, knowledge and understanding of preservation can only come from the work experience itself, as it was for me when I was employed by Indiana DOT. I do not envision that younger generations will be well prepared to hit the ground running with preservation. Thinking otherwise may be optimistic.

At Kercher we take preservation education seriously. I always enjoy watching new staff members hear the stories of how preservation and asset management have moved communities forward. Their light bulb quickly lights up when they do realize they have a group of preservation practitioners that are willing to guide them.

Could you share something about your personal life? How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite hobby?

Like many fellow preservation practitioners, I must say that my wife and kids get their fair share of bridge background photos while on vacation. All joking aside, I spend a fair amount of time trying to make other people happy. I own a DJ business where my wife and I coordinate and entertain guests at wedding and reception events. It has been a real joy being a big part of bride’s and groom’s Big Day for more than 18 years. The folks we serve often have large crowds. I find it very enjoyable to bring a few hundred people together on a dance floor.

Folks that know me are never surprised that I am so comfortable being the master of ceremonies of these events, or when I tell them I have been voted the best DJ in our area for many years. Being in a small town has its perks. One is that there’s not much competition in the DJ world, which might result in being named the best.

Do you have any links that you would like to share with the?

Just a few plugs for some things I am passionate about:

1. The Kercher Group has been such a great firm to work for and has really given me the opportunity to make an impact in a big way to Agencies across the country.
http://www.kerchergroup.com/

2. AASHTO Bridge Preservation Partnership has recently deployed its own LinkedIn page. This will be one way of staying connected to some of the best practitioners in the Agencies and in the industry. I look forward to meeting more folks there.
https://www.linkedin.com/company/tsp2-bridgepreservationpartnership

Chasing Bubbles, a documentary about the journey and the spirit of Alex Rust – From IMDB

3. BONUS MATERIAL:
The documentary “Chasing Bubbles” (see YouTube) is an inspirational story of a great friend of mine. Alex Rust, who graduated from Purdue University School of Engineering, decided to live a much different life than most. My hope is that his story of sailing around the world will push viewers to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest.

The documentary is also a true preservation story. Alex made it through the hardest challenges focusing on taking care of the small problems when they were still small. He could not afford to tackle major problems alone while in open water out in the ocean. One can say that he truly applied preservation and maintenance practices to his boat. He truly kept his boat in a good state during the long sailing journey.
https://youtu.be/ibP5IQxId34

A Conversation with Tim Woolery, Vice-President of ACT

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

There is always something new to learn when you speak with Tim Woolery, the Vice-President of Advanced Chemical Technologies (ACT) (see LINK) out of Oklahoma City, OK.  Tim has an extensive knowledge of protective sealers, both in the Lab and in the field. He is also very familiar with bridge preservation having been an active and enthusiastic member of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership since its beginning.

Could you speak of your career that led you to be the Vice-President of ACT?

About 10 years ago, after spending 30 years with a wood coating company specializing in solvent-based finishes, I was ready to move on and do something that would be more fun.

It happened that Kevin Brown, the owner of ACT, asked me to come on board and join the company. I remember saying something like this to him: “I want to attend a trade show, and, if it looks fun, then we will talk about your proposal”. So, I went to the NEBPP TSP2 bridge preservation meeting in Newport, RI. It was my very first experience with the TSP2 Partnership. After I got there and worked the show, I realized how committed the attendees were to bridge preservation. I also recognized the value of contributing to the maintenance and restoration of our country’s infrastructure. Definitively, the bridge preservation business looked like a worthwhile venture, something I would really enjoy getting into. That’s kind of how it started, from participating in a TSP2 show 8 years ago.

I went from materials for the protection of wood to materials for the protection of concrete. However, the fact that I had to deal with a completely different substrate, chemistry-wise it was an easy transition for me.

Are you involved with the design of chemical formulations and with new product development at ACT?

Yes, I love working on Lab projects, then moving to the field for trials and finally to a saleable product. When I was in the wood coating business, I ran the Laboratory for 11 years, also doing new product development.

Working on the formulation of new, innovative materials for ACT is one of my pleasures.  We developed silanes with corrosion inhibitors and we have just completed a new silane product that provides both oil and water repellency.

This new product, which is designed for parking garages, protects concrete floors from stains caused by oil drippings. Cars are always leaking oil thereby making a garage floor look bad, as if it has never been cleaned. Owners want to be able to clean the oil off by power washing. The new water and oil repellent silane product from ACT makes it possible. Oil drippings bead up instead of soaking in and flattening out and therefore they can be easily removed.

What are your responsibilities as the Vice-President of ACT?

In addition to helping with the Laboratory, I am responsible for ACT Customer Service and Sales. We have 7 independent representatives to promote our products around the country.

What are your core values as a leader of ACT? And what expectations do you have for your employees?

I can summarize my values in three words: participation, education and fun.

I grew up professionally in the culture of an employee-owned company, where everybody acts like an owner and participates in the business. To do so, it is essential that employees have the proper education. In other words,  they must be equipped with information that can allow them to make good decisions. I do not want my employees to ask me what the right decision is for them to make. I want my employees to be educated so that they can take good decisions on their own. This is also essential for their personal and professional growth.

If you participate in the business and have the necessary tools, work should be fun. If work is not fun and if you cannot work with enthusiasm, it is better to quit and choose a different job.

I expect that my employees at ATC be dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate about the business. I do not want them to be reactive, just answer the phone, do quotes, etc. I want them to know why they are doing what they do, have a knowledge, be proactive and really participate. When I am travelling, I do not worry about my phone ringing all the time. I have a great team of people who is able to step in for me and take care of the customers.

ACT offers a number of silane-based sealers for the protection of concrete and masonry. What are your most successful products for bridge preservation?

In 1976 ACT was the first importer of silane sealers in the USA. The company has been in the silane business out of Oklahoma since 1977. It was in Oklahoma in 1977 that, for the first time in the USA, silane sealers were used to protect a concrete bridge.

After many years, we have added epoxies healer-sealers, overlay systems and corrosion inhibitors to the product line. However, silane remains the core and most successful product of ACT.

I understand that ACT’s product offer has moved from the 40% to the 100% solid formulation for silane sealers. Why?

The reason why 40% reactive sealers were formulated depended on the fact that silanes used to be super-expensive. In the late 70s it was not even conceivable to sell silanes for $100 per gallon. Reducing the concentration to 40% made silanes more affordable. Today, with more silane producers around the world, it is possible to get the 100% reactive formulation at a reasonable price.

What are the challenges that ACT has encountered in promoting its products for bridge preservation? Do you have any advice for overcoming these challenges?

Probably the main challenge we have encountered entails the process of approving products in the Qualified Product List (QPL) or Approved Product List (APL) of the Departments of Transportation (DOT). The management of this process is complex. It also varies from State to State since each DOT is organized differently from another.

The process can also be expensive. For example, in 2019 a DOT required the NCHRP 244 Northern Exposure test in order to keep our product in the Approved Listing. All the other States use the Southern Exposure test. Nobody had really run the Northern Exposure test. So, we had to run an additional test that costed $8,000. If for whatever reason, we had not passed that test, we would have needed to run it again thus doubling the cost.

The DOT approval process is definitively a major challenge. The other challenge entails dealing with silane specifications that have not been written clearly or are too vague.

My advice is simply to have patience. You must solve one problem at a time.

What about do you think of inviting people who are in charge of DOT approvals at TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings?

It would be a good idea to invite the “Materials Division” engineers to the TSP2 meetings because ultimately these people decide which products can be used for bridge preservation.

Having the Material Division Engineers attending the breakout sessions together with Engineers form the Bridge Office and Bridge Maintenance Leadership would add great value to the conversations at TSP2 meetings.

In addition to bridge preservation, ACT is active in other sectors, such as parking garages and architecture.  Can you make a comparison between the challenges that you have encountered in these fields Vs bridge preservation?

Silane projects for parking garage floors are a sizeable part of our business. On the other hand, we are not overly strong in what we call the vertical architectural market. This is an area of opportunity that we are working on.

The use of a product in the DOT business is based on the approval of the product by the DOT and its inclusion in the QPL or APL, while in the parking garage and architectural business the product must be in the specifications. To do so, it is essential to pay a service, like MasterSpec, since architects download the specs from these portals. One cannot grow the business going to one architect at the time. It is too slow.

With parking garages, it is essential to be specified by consultants like Walker or Desman. If you can get them to put your product in the specs, then they send these specifications out to all their offices throughout the country. This is a good way to get business. Otherwise, as I said before, you have to be on those engines that the architects use for specs. If you are in, you have a chance to be specified. If you are not specified, it is really a hard time convincing a contractor to change the specifications.

How has the business changed for ACT during the recent months when we are copying with the COVID pandemic?

Not travelling has been the biggest change since the pandemic began. Typically, I travel two weeks every month, participating in conferences, training events, demonstrations and sales calls. So far this year I have not flown at all. However, I have driven to several states to work with county maintenance crews to help establish bridge preservation programs using silanes.

I also participated in my first Zoom presentation as a presenter for the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) conference. Even though I prefer speaking to a “live” audience, it turned out well and I had an opportunity to answer questions.

You are a member of the Innovation Technology Demonstration (ITD) TSP2 National Working Group.  Could you speak of the value that ITD brings to bridge preservation?

I think the ITD program is a great concept.  It represents a faster way to get new and innovative products adopted by the Departments of Transportations (DOTs).

One of the challenges I see with this program is that the ITD process goes from industry to DOTs, while it should be the opposite. DOTs should call industry asking for innovative products and services that meet their needs. Industry should respond to this call. Otherwise industry runs the risk of developing innovative solutions for what they perceive as major problems, which, however, may not be a concern for the DOTs.

I am not sure that all DOTs quite understand the concept of ITD. To facilitate this understanding, there should be more DOT representatives in the ITD Working Group team. I also think that ITD presentations at the TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings should be done by the DOTs involved with this program rather than by industry representatives. My concern is that ITD presentations can be perceived as “sales oriented” rather than presentations that focus on innovative “solutions” to DOT problems.

You have been participating in TSP2 Bridge Partnership meetings, both National and Regional, as a vendor for several years. Has ACT benefitted from your participation in these meetings and how?

It always boils down to people. When you come to these events you get to meet a number of bridge preservation people. You develop relationships that usually don’t happen across the desk at office meetings.  Even more important, you can gain the trust of the DOT people, who can appreciate your technical expertise, your willingness to participate in the meeting events and your commitment to bridge preservation.

I am a committed believer in the TSP2 program and in what this program is doing. I show my commitment by giving presentations, participating in the round tables and being available to share knowledge. Hopefully over the years people have come to recognize me as a resource to the bridge preservation community.

The participation in the TSP2 events has been truly beneficial to ACT’s growth. Before getting into this business, I did not know anything about bridges and what was done to maintain them. I have learned a lot and gotten a great education through the program.

Before getting into this business, I did not know anything about bridges and what was done to maintain them. I have learned a lot and gotten a great education through the program. TSP2 has been very valuable to me personally.

When TSP2 meetings are going to restart in 2021, what are your recommendations to vendors in order to take the maximum advantage from their participation?

I think that vendors who attend the TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings and sit at their booth all the time do not understand the value of these meetings. My advice is for the vendors to be active participants, sit at the conference and learn about the problems that DOTs have and the solutions they adopt. It is also important to participate in round-table discussions, hearing conversations and questions. Otherwise one does not get to know DOT’s concerns and needs. In summary, vendors have to get out of the booth, participate in meetings, and be a potential resource for the solutions to problems.

When I present silane sealers at TSP2 meetings, I position myself as a resource for the bridge preservation community. I never mention the commercial names of ACT products. I do sell my products but I share my knowledge and experience with the silane technology. If the silane technology becomes more widely adopted, it will be good for everybody in the industry, including ACT. Rising tide lifts all boats.

Can you share something about your personal life? How do you do like spending your free time?

I live in Oklahoma, so hunting and fishing have always been my spare time passion. Big game hunting and upland bird hunting keep me busy during the fall and winter months. In the summer I can be found at Lake Eufaula fishing and dragging grandkids on skis behind a boat.

 

LINKS

Advanced Chemical Technologies (ACT)

Bridge Preservation Training for Local Agencies

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

The Local Agency Outreach TSP2 Working Group has developed a new program, the Bridge Preservation Training for local Agencies, whose main points are reported in the “Low-Cost Maintenance to Save Bridges” flier. The flier, which is published on the TSP2 web site, can be found on the Local Agency Outreach Working Group page, following the link: “Local Agency Outreach Introduction White Paper.

The new program is in line with one of the strategic goals of TSP2 that entails extending the use of bridge preservation practices from DOTs to local Agencies, such as Cities, Counties and Municipalities. In order to learn more about the program, I spoke with Gregg Freeman, Director of Business Development with Kwik Bond Polymers and chair of the Working Group, and with Travis Kinney, Major Bridge Maintenance Engineer with Oregon DOT, co-chair of the Working Group, and project leader. I also contacted Pat Conner with Indiana LTAP for information concerning this State.

How was this new program formulated?

Travis Kinney, Major Bridge Maintenance Engineer with Oregon DOT

Travis Kinney – The TSP2 Partnership recognized that the local Agencies did not have enough presence and influence in the Bridge Preservation Partnership group. I do not mean to say that there are not active members from local Agencies in TSP2, but their number and their level of influence is not proportional to the amount of bridge inventory they manage. As a consequence, a TSP2 Working Group was developed to look at ways to improve the outreach to local bridge owners with the goal to educate them about the benefits of preservation practices. Setting up a bridge maintenance training for local Agencies was an idea that spawned naturally out of this effort.

The Local Agency Outreach Working Group has progressed to include great participation from a wide range of local Agencies. This participation has helped the group in many respects including the design of ways to advertise training opportunities. These encompass advertising the activity of the Working Group in the National Local Technical Assistance Program Association (NLTAPA) (see LINKS) newsletters, the creation of a flier, and even a poster-board to be displayed at the national LTAP conference, which unfortunately was canceled because of COVID-19.

What is the purpose of the program?

Gregg Freeman, Director of Business Development with Kwik Bond Polymers

Gregg Freeman – We aim to educate local Agency managers on the benefits of preservation versus replacement of bridges. Preservation is a proven methodology that saves taxpayers’ money over the long term.  At this point, there isn’t nearly enough money available to replace bridges that are in “poor” condition.  Preservation is the only methodology to be considered in order to close the gap.

What are the key elements of the program?

Gregg Freeman – A strict collaboration with LTAP people is essential in order to implement our process of soliciting local Agencies to adopt bridge preservation practices. We thought that a simple and effective way to initiate this collaboration was to create a non-proprietary presentation, titled “Bridge Preservation For Local Agencies”.

This presentation, which was the first output of our TSP2 Working Group, is intended to be given as part of the “Lunch & Learn” LTAP training program throughout the US. The intent of the presentation is to underscore the importance of a pro-active bridge preservation approach, summarized in the “Keep Good Bridges Good” mantra, as opposed to a reactive “Worst First” methodology that should not be the focal point of any asset management plan.

Travis Kinney – The Working Group is now focused on identifying barriers that prevent obtaining funds for preservation at local levels. As a result of this effort, the group identified that federal funds are rarely used at local levels for preservation activities. Replacement and major rehabilitation tend to be favored in existing projects’ selection processes. In addition, state funding tends to favor the “Worst-First” approach.

Another key initiative of the Working Group that has just started entails the review of asset management plans by local Agencies in order to determine whether they create a framework that favors replacement instead of preservation practices.

Who is the target audience of the “Bridge Preservation For Local Agencies” presentation?

Gregg Freeman – It is a large target audience. It includes Cities, Counties, Municipalities, Tribal Agencies and every group involved with educating local Agencies, such as LTAP, NACE, FHWA, State DOT’s and AASHTO.

Has this presentation already been given?

Travis Kinney – The presentation is ready to be given and is being advertised through the NLTAPA Working Group members.  In April of this year, I gave a trial run of the presentation virtually to over 30 LTAP representatives. The presentation was well received and the Working Group has gained interest in setting up virtual training opportunities.

Can you tell me more about the issue concerning access to federal funds?

Travis Kinney – As I mentioned earlier, how to get access to federal funds for preservation is a point of key interest for local Agencies.

We had reached out to our contacts at TSP2 for good examples of funding for local Agencies, specifically for preservation. When they told us that they had a hard time finding these examples, we started working with the Bridge Preservation Expert Task Group (BPETG) from FHWA (see LINKS) so as to establish a study, or a survey, that can be valid on the national scale. This is being framed out.  The key question that we would like to have answered through the collaboration with BPETG entails barriers for getting funds down from federal to local level for preservation.  The best funding example we have found so far entails the state of Indiana, which has done a great job of promoting preservation at the local level.

Pat Conner, LTAP Research Manager with Purdue University

Pat Conner – The Indiana transportation funding system encourages preservation through different avenues, such as the use of revenue from the gas tax that is distributed to locals, a new state funded matching grant fund, and obviously locally generated funds. The Indiana model is however difficult to duplicate in other states because most of the funds used for preservation are funded locally or from state generated funding. In Indiana federal funding is not currently being utilized for preservation.

Indiana has the Motor Vehicle Highway Account, which is heavily funded through gas and diesel taxes. Local Agencies are required to spend at least 50% of this account toward construction, reconstruction, and preservation. Indiana also has a matching grant fund for local Agencies that is funded through vehicle registrations and a portion of the gas tax. In order to get access to this fund, local Agencies are required to have an asset management plan in place. Between the funding availability for preservation, the asset management requirements, and the training being provided for asset management by LTAP, Indiana is the forefront of creating a culture that encourages local Agencies to re-look at their project priorities and preferred practices.

Gregg Freeman – In some cases, bridge preservation is still being confused with major rehabilitation and replacement. One of the first examples of federal funding for local Agencies we received from FHWA was under the banner of bridge preservation but it actually involved major rehabilitation and replacement. It did not entail preservation, as it is defined by AASHTO TSP2 as “actions or strategies that prevent, delay or reduce deterioration of bridges or bridge elements, restore the function of existing bridges, keep bridges in good condition and extend their life”.

Could you share details about the current state of the program’s implementation?

Gregg Freeman –  Travis gave a webinar organized by the National LTAP that was attended by 30 people. I had the opportunity to give a preliminary version of the “Bridge Preservation For Local Agencies” presentation at the annual county bridge conference organized by Indiana LTAP at Purdue University on October 29 and 30, 2019. I was invited by Pat Conner, who has been instrumental in creating such a good training program for local Agencies in Indiana.

Travis Kinney – We have had tremendous support for doing more in-person presentations. North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois had all reached out to our Working Group because of their interest in the program. This was in early March. Since then in-person training has been put on hold due to the COVID restrictions. We are now shifting gears and looking at virtual training opportunities to sustain the Working Group’s momentum.

The training comes at no cost for those attending. Who pays for it?

Gregg Freeman – When in-person meetings can be organized again, we are counting on the collaboration of volunteers from the local LTAPs, local FHWA, State DOTs and industry.

Primarily we are looking for industry folks who volunteer as presenters, preferably with a partner from a State DOT. We already have a list of potential industry presenters. We are relying on LTAP to help set up the meetings and provide a venue. Alternatively, the venue can be provided by State DOTs that participate in the program. The FHWA BPETG is also supporting this effort.

Travis Kinney – With virtual meetings the organization process could be simplified. However, at this point, organizing virtual meetings on a national scale is a work-in-progress with a number of pieces to be defined.

 

LINKS

Local Agency Outreach Working Group

National Local Technical Assistance Program Association (NLTAPA)

Bridge Preservation Expert Task Group (BPETG)

 

A Conversation with Jeremy Hunter, Chief Engineer with Indiana DOT

Jeremy Hunters, Chief Engineer with Indiana DOT

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Jeremy Hunter is Chief Engineer with the Indiana Department of Transportation and past Chair of the Mid-West Bridge Preservation Partnership. As a leader, Jeremy adopts a collaborative approach method that facilitates solving issues and advancing programs. Bridge preservation is certainly an advanced program at Indiana DOT. This State can proudly show a remarkable track record of 94% of bridges in good or fair condition. My conversation with Jeremy starts with a question about this record.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (see LINK), Indiana’s bridges exceed the national average for safety, with 94% of bridges in fair or good condition. CNBC (see LINK) classifies Indiana as the State with the best 2019 Infrastructure Score. What are the reasons for this impressive data?

Team work and communication are key elements of how Indiana DOT has been able to reach such a remarkable score. Those two are really critical elements. When we think of an engineering program, we tend to characterize it through its technical aspects, while its successful completion usually depends on well-executed team work and effective communication.

What I have always focused on throughout my career with the Agency is how we make bridge preservation practitioners feel as if they are part of the solution, and how we give them proper tools and resources to be successful. Communication is a very important tool. It means making sure that everybody who has an idea or individuates a problem, feels comfortable communicating the idea or the problem, whether this person is on the frontline or in a director-type of role.

Can you make an example of the collaborative approach method that you encourage?

At Indiana DOT we have adopted techniques for bridge waterproofing, including both older and newer bridges. These techniques keep water under control and prevent it from wearing out structural materials. At Indiana DOT waterproofing is a pivotal element of the bridge preservation program. One of the reasons the program functions so well is that anybody who notices something that might be a waterproofing issue, feels confident to signal it, makes everybody aware of the issue, and asks for solutions that can be adopted.  This is where team-work, collaboration and communication come in. People in all areas of the Agency are comfortable with this approach. If they see something that needs to be repaired, they do not let it get to a point that becomes a problem but they signal it right away. Then they try to come up with a solution as quickly as possible.

I understand that this method values employees, especially those who are proactive and expert. Am I correct?

Yes, people come first. Our asset management system is only as good as the people that put information into it. The more informed inspectors and maintenance professionals are, the more they communicate with each other about best practices and right solutions, the more valuable is the data they enter into the system. Building a comprehensive asset management system always starts with the people that select and compile data.

What are the metrics that Indiana DOT adopts for its successful bridge preservation program?

I am not keen on the use of metrics. I do not like focusing on the current status, or where we are at the moment. If we judge ourselves by the metrics, we will very likely end up relaxing and not moving forward. We want to judge ourselves based on different criteria. For example, we continuously improving? Are we learning new strategies? Are we coming up with new, innovative solutions? Are we developing relationships that teach us what we need to know to do our job better tomorrow?

In my line of thinking our bridge program is successful if everybody is continually learning, improving and finding innovation. If we do that, then we will see that our metrics will continue to get better. We want to go from good to great. We do not settle for less.

What challenges are Indiana DOT facing in order to keep bridges in good and fair conditions?

Training is our major challenge, but it is also an opportunity. We need to continue to learn how to train the next generation that is entering the Agency. Personnel will come and go at Indiana DOT, as in any other major organization and industry. What will determine whether we can sustain our current score and improve on it, depends on how we will be able to integrate new personnel into our existing teams. We need to continuously be able to add and train new people, and help them become the best they can be.

You served as the Chair on the Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership board. Could you speak of your experience with the TSP2 Partnership?

Participating in the Partnership has been an amazing experience for me. I had no idea how rewarding being a part of the Partnership would have been when I first got involved with it.

The Midwest Partnership gathers an amazing team of bridge engineers and practitioners who actually deal with the same challenges and have similar opportunities. Being able to share knowledge with this team has been of great value to me. Before joining the Partnership there were many times when I had an idea for solving a problem but I did not have information on whether the idea was good or not. Thanks to the Partnership I can now call my counterpart in another State and get feedback. Some Midwestern States have in fact tried solutions that have never been implemented in Indiana. Sharing solutions and lessons learned make every State in the Partnership better.

Being able to learn and grow from the relationships that I have developed, having the opportunity to see what the other States are doing, being able to ask questions about challenges or the implementation of new solutions and innovative techniques, these have been the major and the most exciting assets that I gained from being part of the Partnership.

You are a member of two TSP2 Working Groups, the Preservation Matrix” and “Bridge Preservation Research”. Could you briefly speak about these Working Groups?

The preservation matrix (see LINK) is an easy way to summarize and showcase the different solutions that each State is adopting for bridge deck overlay.

Within bridge preservation there is a large number of solutions and technologies that can be implemented. You cannot honestly try to utilize all of them. You have to choose what you think is going to be the right solution for your problem in your State. The matrix is beneficial in helping with this choice. It has been very rewarding for me being able to have such an exchange of information with the preservation matrix team.

Being part of the preservation research team has been equally rewarding. So much research gets done throughout the Midwest and the USA that it is not always easy to know what research has already been done and then learn about its results. The Working Group has responded to this need with a comprehensive research report (see LINK).  The team has also helped identify research needs. We are always faced with new problems to solve and new challenges to overcome. Research is a very powerful tool to address these issues and individuate solutions.

Do you have a success story that you would like to highlight?

My success story entails the relationship with the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership. I have learned so much from the Partnership that I have been able to implement new preservation actions at Indiana DOT, which have been of benefit to the State.

At the beginning of my career, I spent 14 years as a consulting bridge designer. When I joined Indiana DOT, I did not really know a lot about bridge preservation because I had not been exposed to the concept as much in design. My first job with the DOT was what they call bridge asset engineer. In a nutshell it means taking the best care of the bridges you manage and being a good steward of public resources. At that time, I did not know exactly what the best bridge preservation strategies were. So, getting involved with the Partnership, learning what bridge preservation means, being able to talk to bridge engineers who had knowledge and experience about it, helped me tremendously in my job.

Could you provide some additional background information about your professional career?

I have accepted the position of Chief Engineer at Indiana DOT on February 2019. Prior to that I was the Director of Bridge Design at Indiana DOT. For most of my career I have been in bridge design, bridge maintenance, bridge inspection, asset management. I graduated as an engineer 21 years ago from Purdue University.

Can you share something about your personal life? How do you do like spending your free time?

I love music. I am a musician who plays guitar and sings. This is what I spend a lot of my free time doing. I like a wide variety of music from jazz, to country, rock, pop and blues. The time that I spend playing music is very rewarding, because it allows me to feel free and creative.

 

LINKS

NBI – 2018 Bridge Condition by Highway System

CNBC – Trump and Dems agree America’s infrastructure needs a $2 trillion fix. These 5 states are in the best shape in 2019

MWBPP: Bridge Deck Overlay Product Matrix

MWBPP:  Bridge Preservation Research Report

 

A Conversation with Chris Higgins, Professor of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University

Prof. Higgins at the top of the tower of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Prof. Chris Higgins is the academic director for the TSP2 Western Bridge Preservation Partnership. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to TSP2, including a pragmatic approach to bridge preservation problems, striving to obtain quantified outcomes from implemented actions. Many of his research findings have become standard practice and are included into design specifications. His research on load evaluation of reinforced concrete bridges in Oregon has saved up to $500 million to Oregon’s taxpayers. I had the opportunity to speak in person with Prof. Higgins recently.

Could you introduce yourself to the readers of the blog?

I am a professor of Structural Engineering at Oregon State University in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering. I have been doing this job for more than 20 years.

Before joining Oregon State University, I taught at Clarkson University in Upstate New York. This was my first teaching job after getting my PhD. Before going back to school for the PhD, I worked for a consulting engineering firm. This experience differentiates me from most of my colleagues, who have been academics the whole time. Working in the private sector was a very valuable experience for me. I had the opportunity to work on existing structures, a practice that actually led me to bridge preservation.  Existing structures in fact present much more challenges and have much more complex problems than new structures.

Do you mean the challenge of having inherent design limitations?

Right, there are a lot more criteria that come to play when working on existing structures in comparison with new structures. New design is like a blank piece of paper. You can always fill it up with whatever you like. On the other hand, when you have an existing structure, you must be able to design taking into account a lot of constraints. I like this type of challenge. It is where my interest in working on existing structures comes from.

Could you point out other significant steps in your education and career?

Before taking the PhD at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, I did my undergraduate at Marquette University in Wisconsin and my master at University of Texas in Austin.

As I mentioned earlier, my first academic job was in New York State. Then I moved from New York to Oregon, where I live. I have lived in Oregon longer than any other place in my life.

What are the most important achievements in your career?

What I value the most are the students that I have the opportunity to mentor, particularly my graduate students. While a lot of people may not recognize that as an outcome of the academic world, the quality of our students can be regarded as the most valuable and impactful product that we produce. If you think in terms of echo and reverberation, the impact that these students will have on people and future generations is very big and lasts long.

Students are my priority. I tend to be a professor whose philosophy is “do no harm”. It is important for me to “make students better” and “take out their greatest strengths”. However, “do no harm” comes first for me.

Can you describe your practice?

I am mostly known for the work on load evaluation I did with my team when I first started at Oregon State University. In Oregon they had an issue with older, conventionally reinforced concrete bridges that were classified as deficient. At the time of their construction, designers were heavily relying on the strength from concrete thereby putting in the least amount of steel they possibly could. Detailing practices were also insufficient. The design was not poor for the standards of the time, but the state of the art is constantly evolving. It is a fact that the state of the art is constantly evolving. What the state of the art was yesterday, we can recognize as having problems today.

There was a huge need to do remediation and replacement work on the concrete bridges that had difficulties in Oregon since they all showed significant cracking. However, there was also the need to improve our ability to understand the actual condition of these bridges by using more advanced methods of analysis. We established an extensive experimental program focusing on full scale girders, with the goal to evaluate real remaining capacity. We also wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of available engineering tools to look at direct liability analysis, working on both sides of the problem, not just the resistance but also the load effect.

Taking into consideration that Oregon allows vehicles exceeding the Federal standards, we looked at what the real uncertainty of load effects would produce on these older bridges. By doing so we were able to save up to $500 million for the repair and replacement of Oregon bridges.

Could you expand upon the load effect concept?

It simply entails using a better method of analysis to calculate the capacity of bridges to carry load. If you use an old method, you get one answer. If you use a more current method, such as the modified compression theory that is adopted in Oregon, you will get a different answer. By adopting the more current method, we calculated additional load carrying capacity for the bridges in Oregon.

Is the load evaluation method also related to bridge posting?

No, it is not about posting bridges. We are actually trying to avoid posting bridges, since it creates a lot of problems and has a costly impact to the public in terms of both money and safety.

In Oregon we were the first to re-calibrate the load factors of bridges for the specific truck-loading conditions we have. So rather than using the national standard for load factors, we calibrated these factors to our unique conditions.

The load effect is not produced by a single truck but by a combination of trucks. Different states have different types of truck permits. They also have a different number of permits that they can issue, which changes the likelihood of two trucks being side by side over a bridge. In Oregon we were able to define load factors that are realistic and in line with size and number of trucks that will likely use our bridges. Previous load factors were simply too high.

Is it fair to say that the load factor is a sort of flexible indicator?

Yes, it is definitively a flexible factor. For example, when we were looking at the data, we learned that, from a probabilistic standpoint, bridges become safer during a recession.

Are there less trucks driving during a recession?

Yes. Who would have thought that safety of bridges, in terms of reliability assessment, is so strictly linked to the economy? We are actually interested in working with an economist to look at how bridge safety is impacted by the economy. It is an interesting cross-disciplinary research that broadens the way you look at bridges and their safety.

I know that Oregon DOT is also in the forefront of adopting techniques, such as strengthening, that increase the resistance of structural elements. Could you speak about it?

I would say that 90% of my work is related to existing structures, mainly bridges. My focus is on how to better evaluate these bridges, how to determine if they can carry the required loads, and how to strengthen them. We have looked at all kinds of materials and technologies for strengthening, from adding supplemental steel, both external and internal, and near surface-mounted materials, such as carbon fiber. We have also adopted titanium as a new material for strengthening.

Based on the evaluation of advantages and disadvantages for each of these technologies, we have a preference for the use of titanium. This material is metallic, high strength, and ductile. It can be bent, thus providing a good mechanical anchor to the concrete substrate, rather than just relying on bonding. Not only does the titanium provide high strength performance properties but also long-term durability.

At Oregon State University we have a unique facility that accommodates a strong floor in an environmental chamber so that we can simulate an array of conditions that actually occur with bridges. For example, we can bounce structural elements up and down applying mechanical stresses that would simulate truck traffic. We can subject the elements to environmental distress caused by freezing and thawing. We can tailor the magnitude of the stresses that we are producing mechanically with field measurements so as to create the conditions for accelerating damage.

For a lot of construction materials, we find that if we just test their strength on the laboratory floor, we get one answer. If we bounce up and down the structure made with the material, so as to have high-cycle fatigue, we get a second answer. If we just subject the material to environmental exposure, we have a third different answer. By combining fatigue with environment and then testing strength, we find, in some instances, a negative synergy. It can be said that the combined influence of fatigue with environment is more harmful than any other combination of induced stress.

This concept is especially true for concrete structures. Cracks that are usually present in concrete open under the stress induced by traffic and water can get sipped in. When the stress goes away, cracks close but some of the water gets entrapped and it is not pumped out. When this water freezes, concrete begins to deteriorate. If you use a strengthening system that only relies on the chemical bond at the surface, where freeze-thaw cycles happen at a high rate, you can likely experience the deterioration of the bond.

Does your research program entirely focus on bridge preservation?

Yes, and take into consideration that bridge preservation in the West coast also includes seismic retrofitting. If you can keep an existing bridge in service by retrofitting targeted areas so as to achieve seismic performance objectives, you can save a lot of money to DOTs and other owners.

Can you speak of your role as academic director for the TSP2 Western Bridge Preservation Partnership?

I have been academic director probably the shortest length of time between the four directors. So, I am still trying to see how I fit into this puzzle.

The Partnership shows just how common bridge preservation problems are. They are not unique to one state as they cross geo-political boundaries. For this reason, a lot of problems are better solved by the community of bridge preservation practitioners rather than by the individuals. Creating teams of practitioners, who share similar problems, and experts, who can help address those problems, is part of my responsibility as an academic director.

The Partnership has given me new ideas about problems that need to be solved. Every month during the Western Bridge Preservation Partnership conference calls, I learn about new problems and what DOT practitioners are doing to tackle them.

In summary, as a TSP2 academic director for the Western Partnership I learn about new bridge preservation challenges that DOTs are facing and I use my connections in the academic community to address those issues.

Based on your experience at Oregon State University, are civil engineering students aware of bridge preservation programs? Are they interested in these problems?

Bridge preservation is linked to existing materials, analysis and design. Most of our academic training is related to new materials, new design, latest codes, and new construction. However, Oregon State offers courses that deal with existing structures. These are elective for undergraduate as well as graduate students.

In my bridge engineering course, we deal with existing structures’ rating and evaluations but we do not have time to go into specific preservation actions.

I can say that at Oregon State we have more classes than most of the other Universities addressing existing structures, both the evaluation and the rehabilitation side.  However, while the training is out there, it is not organized in a unifying program. From the outside, one would not likely be able to see it. It is available to the students in pieces but not in a holistic way.

What could TSP2 do to increase awareness of bridge preservation in the academic environment?

In 2019 I participated in all the four TSP2 Bridge Partnership Meetings. At each meeting I met only one or two academics. Definitively TSP2 could increase participation from academia in their meetings.

TSP2 is a very practitioner-applied group of people, who need to solve real problems that are faced today. On the other hand, academics tend to be more “blue sky”, that’s a generality, of course. So, bridge preservation practitioners and academics are somehow like oil and water, they do not mix easily.  However, I think there is a larger amount of “oil” and “water” that can be mixed together through TSP2.

We can reach out to academic communities that are actively working locally in areas of mutual interest across the different groups. We may be able to pull more academics in, which would be beneficial to the needs of the TSP2 bridge preservation community.

I particularly recommend reaching out to academics who are involved in research since research is a skill set that can bring immediate value to TSP2.

How can TSP2 attract students, young people who can be interested in having a career in bridge preservation?

Most of my students choose to work in the building world. A good number though have taken state DOT positions or are bridge practitioners in consulting firms.  These jobs are attractive to most of them.

I think that Community Colleges, which are a second academic community, could successfully engage with bridge preservation.  Being applied industrial arts the focus of these colleges, their students are likely to be well suited to the needs of bridge maintenance as well as the people who would likely employ them.

A Conversation with Sarah Sondag, Principal Engineer with Minnesota DOT

Sarah Sondag., Principal Engineer with MnDOT

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

A registered Professional Engineer in the State of Minnesota, Sarah Sondag is the Bridge Operations Support Engineer with the Bridge Office at Minnesota DOT. She is a prominent advocate for bridge preservation as is evident from the programs that she supports at Minnesota DOT. Sarah is active with TSP2 where she sits on the Board of the Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership, as Vice Chair representing the States.

I had a conversation with Sarah, who like myself lives in the Twin Cities, about her career and her vision for bridge preservation.

Could you outline the pivotal points of your professional career?

After earning a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree and a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Minnesota, I started my professional career with Mark Thomas & Company in San Jose’, California. I worked for that company for three years on a wide range of design projects, from highway to flood walls.

I then moved to Duluth, Minnesota, where I started with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in District 1. I was hired as a graduate engineer and rotated through different areas within the District, including hydraulics and soils, before ending in construction as a Project Engineer. After having my first child, I went part-time and focused on specialized projects. One of these projects entailed the creation of a database for construction documentation with the goal of providing easier methods to collect data in the field. After my second child, I transferred to the Traffic Department, where I was the Work Zone Safety Engineer, assisting maintenance and construction crews with work zone layout and safety. I also assisted the crews with traffic control plans for bridge inspection and maintenance, and with traffic management plans.

While I was in District 1, I was given the opportunity to develop a database for bridge maintenance activity tracking. This opportunity ultimately led to my transfer to the Bridge Office in Oakdale, in the eastern side of the Minneapolis – St. Paul Metropolitan area. I was hired as the Bridge Operations Support Engineer, a new position created in the Bridge Office to provide greater support for Minnesota DOT’s District bridge maintenance crews.

One of my first assignments with the Bridge Office entailed coordinating the integration of the bridge maintenance activity tracking system into Minnesota’s bridge inspection software. It required detailing the requirements to track bridge maintenance activities for our crews and tying these activities to inspection findings within the software.

One of my other main responsibilities was to evaluate best practices, with the objective to update the bridge maintenance manual and provide useful resources for our bridge maintenance crews. A Bridge Maintenance Supervisor was hired to assist me in supporting the Districts.  Ultimately, opening communication lines between our District bridge crews and the Bridge Office was an important piece in promoting consistent best practices statewide.

The Bridge Office had created a Bridge Maintenance Supervisor Organization with the goal to facilitate communication between this Office and the Districts and to assist with promoting consistency, efficiency and best practices statewide. We hold semi-annual meetings with Bridge Maintenance Supervisors and lead workers from all of the Districts as well as a safety and training workshop every two years for all of our bridge workers. We exchange ideas, promote best practices, discuss challenges and issues, and explore new technologies and innovation. We also devised task groups within the organization, which work as a vehicle to raise construction or design issues experienced by the crews to the Bridge Operation Support Unit and ultimately to the Structural Standards Research Committee in the Bridge Office.

You are saying that providing tools for bridge preservation practitioners is a good practice but it may not be sufficient. These tools should be supported by a strong communication exchange between the field and the office in order to create the conditions for cultural change. Is this at the core of Minnesota DOT communication policy that you have explained?

Yes, but there is more. We realized that we also needed a way to transfer knowledge more effectively to crew members.  In 2010, the Minnesota DOT had a high turnover due to early retirement incentives. We lost approximately half of our bridge maintenance crew members and seven of the seventeen bridge maintenance supervisors. Had this continued to happen, we would have lost a lot of knowledge. We decided to begin working toward the implementation of a Bridge Maintenance Training Program to capture some of this institutional knowledge before it was lost.

We started with a skills assessment evaluation in order to understand the needs of the crews. We sent questionnaires to our Districts asking about their level of experience with bridge maintenance activities, tools and equipment, along with everything else we thought the crews would need to know.

Instructors and Assistant Instructors at MnDOT BMA

Was Minnesota DOT able to capture its in-house knowledge before so many bridge preservation experts retired?

Yes, this did happen through the development of the Bridge Maintenance Academy. Based on the statewide skills’ assessment, we defined our top training needs. For some of these needs we could work with technical colleges and outside training vendors. However, for routine bridge maintenance tasks, we realized that we would need to create some sort of in-house academy. We also recognized that it was essential to have hands-on classes instead of just PowerPoint presentations. We certainly needed introductory courses surrounding bridge basics and what bridge preservation entails. However, we were convinced that in order for our crews to really learn, it was necessary that the Academy be hands-on and participants be able to actually read plans and work with tools, equipment and materials. We brought in our more experienced supervisors as lead and assistant instructors. We also contracted with two former Bridge Maintenance Supervisors that had retired from the Minnesota DOT to assist with the hands-on portion of the class.

Bridge Maintenance Academy was originally set up as three separate week-long courses.  Bridge Maintenance Academy I consists of primarily classroom sessions introducing topics such as bridge mechanics, bridge components and elements, bridge design concepts, plan reading, introduction to basic types of materials like concrete and steel, as well as an introduction to preservation, traffic control and safety.  Bridge Maintenance Academy II and III are hands-on courses, each a week long, that ultimately result in the actual construction of a small single span bridge.

How is constructing a bridge is related to bridge preservation, which is essentially about maintenance and repair?

There are multiple connections. Many aspects of new construction can also apply to bridge preservation, starting with the knowledge of basic materials, the ability to read a plan, to build formwork, and to work with reinforcing steel. All this knowledge may also be needed to perform repairs.

In addition, during the bridge construction we purposely build in delaminated areas using Styrofoam in the abutment slab and bridge deck so as participants can learn detecting delamination through hammer sounding and chain dragging.  Participants then remove the delaminated areas and perform patching with various materials, including a full depth deck patch.  We also place a strip seal extrusion in the bridge deck so as participants can install and patch a gland.  Furthermore, once the bridge is fully built, we can discuss bridge jacking considerations and provide a hands-on exercise for the participants to practice bridge jacking, which can be a complex and highly significant technique.

During Bridge Maintenance Academy II participants receive an introduction to the fundamentals of structural steel, timber bridge maintenance and formwork.  Participants are also given the opportunity to observe the work performed by experts and execute hands-on bridge maintenance tasks, such as concrete formwork, rebar placement, concrete placement, finishing and curing, chain dragging, concrete removal, patching and structural steel repair.

During Bridge Maintenance Academy III participants construct a small single span bridge in order to facilitate bridge jacking training. As part of this exercise, participants are able to observe experts and perform hands-on bridge maintenance tasks, such as setting elastomeric bearings, setting steel beams, fastening steel diaphragms, constructing bridge deck formwork, placing rebar, placing, finishing and curing bridge deck concrete, installing a strip seal joint and performing full depth deck patching. Following the construction of the bridge, participants receive an introduction to bridge jacking, bearing and joint maintenance fundamentals as well as perform a bridge jacking exercise.

Who participates in the Academy? Are the participants new employees of Minnesota DOT?

The Bridge Maintenance Academy is open to Minnesota DOT bridge crew employees with less than five years of experience and also to other Agencies, such as Cities and Counties in Minnesota and other state Agencies.

How much does it cost to take Minnesota DOT Bridge Maintenance Academy courses?

Currently, we charge a small registration fee of $100 for local Agencies within Minnesota since  the program is supported by our State Aid Office. We charge a $1000 registration fee for out-of-state participants.

Could the Academy develop into a self-supported program?

There might be an opportunity to extend the program and become self-supported. We have had interest from other states in our Academy training program.  It takes significant effort from our Bridge Maintenance Supervisors and lead workers as well as a high level of management support to effectively deliver this type of training.  We are fortunate to have dedicated staff and support for bridge programs at the Minnesota DOT.

Are you planning to develop Bridge Maintenance Academy IV?

It has not been determined yet. Right now, our focus is on converting Bridge Maintenance Academy I into eLearning modules and delivering Bridge Maintenance Academy II and III.

In addition to the Academy, we have also developed on-line resources for some bridge maintenance activities, such as bridge flushing, that are harder to facilitate in a classroom session. The goal of the eLearning modules is to introduce these activities to a crew member who has not had the opportunity to perform them yet or recently.  The eLearning focuses on the benefits of performing these types of activities, their safety and environmental issues, and best practices and procedures for performing the activities on the job site.

We currently have four eLearning courses for bridge preventive maintenance: These are bridge flushing, crack sealing, gland repair, and poured joint sealing, which are available on the MnDOT Bridge Training Website.

What is your current role with the Bridge Academy program? Are you the leader?

It is a group effort. We have many supervisors and lead workers along with a technical college involved in delivering the training. For Bridge Maintenance Academy II and III, we divide the participants into six groups and provide an assistant instructor for each group.

My role is to continue developing and improving the curriculum in collaboration with the instruction team and coordinating training preparation and delivery.

BMA Participants Practicing Bridge Jacking

Is managing the Bridge Maintenance Academy the major responsibility of your team? It looks like a big commitment to me.

During the winter months, we focus on the bridge maintenance training program, planning the semiannual meetings with the Districts’ bridge staff and providing resources and tools to assist the Districts with work planning and data driven staffing decisions. In the summer months we support the crews on a variety of activities, including maintenance data tracking, product field testing and evaluation, equipment training, performance measures, best practices and research. Districts’ crews install many different types of products, so it is important to evaluate these products for performance.  We have set up sites to test various crack sealers, approach relief joints and spot painting products.

Over the last few years, I have returned to full-time and was also able to expand my knowledge in the areas of bridge inspection and bridge construction support through mobility opportunities within the DOT.  In 2017 I worked with our Metro District to advance their bridge inspection program.  For a portion of 2018 I worked with our southern Districts as the South Region Bridge Construction Engineer assisting with scoping, foundation recommendations, plan review and questions during construction.  In 2019 I returned to my role as the Bridge Operations Support Engineer and hope to support the Districts more effectively with the knowledge and experience I have gained.

Could you speak of your involvement with TSP2 Bridge Preservation? Has TSP2 been of help in reaching your goals with Minnesota DOT?

I have been involved with TSP2 for a few years. A couple of years ago, I was elected to a Director role and I am now the Vice Chair on the Board of the Mid-West Bridge Preservation Partnership.  I also serve as Secretary for the National Bridge Deck Preservation Working Group.  My involvement in the Partnership has been of great benefit to me. The partnership conference calls, regional meetings and working groups provide opportunities to learn about effective and innovative bridge preservation practices performed by other Agencies.  We have found a lot of value in the presentations and product demonstrations. These practices and innovations can be brought back to our Agency and help us to identify improvements for Minnesota’s bridge preservation program.

Partnership is really a great word to describe TSP2 because it has truly created a partnership between state Agencies, local Agencies and Industry, where knowledge can be shared and best practices can be discussed with the goal to improve bridge preservation.

Could you share something about your personal life?

I have been married for 17 years. We have two children, a son who just turned 13 in January and a daughter who is 11. Both kids are very involved in club soccer teams.  Our daughter also practices dance and is on a Destination Imagination team. We love to travel, watch the kids’ activities and spend time outside camping, hiking, skiing and enjoying time at the lake.

 

LINKS

Minnesota DOT Bridge Maintenance Training
https://www.dot.state.mn.us/bridge/training.html

Minnesota DOT Bridge Maintenance Manual
https://www.dot.state.mn.us/bridge/maintenance-manual.html

Research
Concrete Bridge Deck Crack Sealant Evaluation and Implementation
https://researchprojects.dot.state.mn.us/projectpages/pages/projectDetails.jsf?id=3007&type=CONTRACT&jftfdi=&jffi=projectDetails%3Fid%3D3007%26type%3DCONTRACT

Transportation Agency Practices Currently Employed for Bridge Maintenance Painting Operations: Findings from a National Survey
https://researchprojects.dot.state.mn.us/projectpages/pages/projectDetails.jsf?id=35932&type=DOCUMENT&jftfdi=&jffi=projectDetails%3Fid%3D35932%26type%3DDOCUMENT

Bridge Maintenance Painting Guidance, Training and Test Site
https://researchprojects.dot.state.mn.us/projectpages/pages/projectDetails.jsf?id=13241&type=CONTRACT&jftfdi=&jffi=projectDetails%3Fid%3D13241%26type%3DCONTRACT