A Conversation with Jeff Pouliotte about Coating Steel Bridges

Jeff Pouliotte picAuthor: Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC
Coating steel bridges is a key technical topic with bridge preservation. It comes as no surprise that there are ten TSP2 Working Groups addressing the different aspects of this practice, from spot painting to surface preparation.

One of the experts in this field is Jeff Pouliotte, State’s Structure Maintenance Engineer with Florida DOT (FDOT). Jeff is the chair of TSP2 “National Bridge Preservation Coatings” Working Group.

Where does your interest for protective coatings for steel bridges come from?
Having worked for FDOT in design, construction and maintenance for many years, I realized that steel bridges often require repaint after as little as 12 years, while these applications should last 20-25 years. For this reason, bridge owners have to repaint their steel bridges many more times than they should have to over their service life. I also realized that there is ample room for improvement with this technology, for example, using high performance coating systems or weathering steel.

In Florida, as default systems, we have adopted the use of weathering steel for environmentally suitable locations and an inorganic zinc single-coat paint system for more severe environments. For aesthetically sensitive locations, we opted to retain a 3-coat inorganic paint system with a clear top coat for color retention and gloss.

How did you take the lead in the national effort to improve the practice of steel bridge coating?
It started with sharing my experience with the protection of steel bridges in aggressive environment at the South East Bridge Preservation Partnership (SEBPP) in 2012 in Atlanta, where I gave a presentation.

After the presentation, I was asked to put together a list of recommendations for how owners could achieve improved service life for their steel bridges. I subsequently put together a group of volunteers from the SEBPP and the AASHTO National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP), which was comprised of a few State employees and Industry representatives, which became the SEBPP Paint Group.

The group’s first products were a Report entitled “A Rational Approach for Planning Bridge Repainting Projects”, a calculation methodology to compare recoating options, and the SEBPP survey to determine Best Practices for Coating Structural Steel. The Calculator focused on cost comparisons between spot painting, overcoating and the removal and replacement of the entire existing coating system. It also included a methodology to compare mobilization and construction costs, life-cycle costs, as well as maintenance and protection costs.

The Report identifies the significant aspects of recoating operations that affect quality, such as: engineering evaluations for in situ coating systems, surface preparation, coating application, specifications, contractor, CEI and owner training and qualifications. At the urging of the AASHTO Subcommittee on Maintenance (SCOM) we modified the Calculator and the Report to include user costs for people sitting in traffic awaiting construction to clear up. I presented results of both at National Bridge Preservation Partnership (NBPP) in Orlando in 2014.

After the meeting in Orlando a consensus was reached to take the program to the national level. The Group has been renamed the NBPP Coatings Group, to acknowledge our national status and to formally acknowledge our interest in coating systems other than paint. The makeup of the Group currently includes experts from other State DOTs, NTPEP, Consultants, Suppliers, Delegates to the AASHTO Subcommittees for Bridges and Structures, Maintenance and Materials, TRB, SSPC, NACE and Researchers. We focused on promoting an AASHTO Domestic Scan “Bridge Recoating Best Practices”, which got support and endorsement from AASHTO Subcommittee on Bridges and Structures (SCOBS), SCOM, all four TSP-2 National Bridge Preservation Partnerships, and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). The goal of the Domestic Scan is to gather knowledge from DOTs across country on best practices for steel bridge coating protection. The Domestic Scan was subsequently accepted and is scheduled for completion in October 2016.

What is the short term goal for the NBPP Coating Group?
The goal is to promote knowledge that will allow Owners to improve the durability of coatings for steel bridge coatings. The report “A Rational Approach for Planning Bridge Repainting Projects” identifies the following as key aspects for having a successful bridge recoating project: performing an engineering evaluation of the existing coating system to determine if the substrate is suitable for overcoating; proper surface preparation; proper coating application; proper training for Contractors, Inspectors and Owners; and good specifications.

The Group is advocating the adoption of the Report’s conclusions, is focusing on finding ways to promote NACE or SSPC coatings training for inspectors and contractors, and is trying to involve the contracting community in our activities for their insight and knowledge.

And what is the long term goal for the Group?
The primary goal is to promote long lasting cost effective coating systems. In accordance with this goal, the Group recently endorsed a research project to collect technical data and develop design guidelines and specifications for duplex coating systems, consisting of a galvanized and/or metalized bottom coat with a high performance paint system top coat. We have already received support from SCOM for this research project. I also raised this issue during the midyear meeting of the AASHTO Subcommittee on Bridges and Structures’ T-9 Technical Subcommittee for Bridge Preservation where I am the Vice Chair. As a result, T-9 will be asking SCOBS to also endorse this research project.

How does the Group plan to promote awareness of the financial benefits of supporting the use of best practices in steel bridge coatings?
We are planning to start a research project to help Owners develop methods to convince Legislators of the benefits of bridge preservation activities, and to free up more funding in this area. In parallel we should find a way of supporting those Owners who specify longer lasting more durable coating systems and have the courage to hold contractors accountable and reject insufficient work. Decision makers need to understand that longer lasting coating systems save money over time.

What challenges are the Group currently facing?
We need to create a liaison with all the stakeholders involved in the coating of structural steel bridges. We have reached out to the AASHTO Subcommittee on Maintenance, Construction and Materials, NTPEP, and the National Steel Bridge Alliance (NSBA). The more people are involved, the more we can identify and address problems to achieve better results.

There is a great need to assemble and transfer knowledge. For example DOT structural and maintenance engineers as well as design engineers are not necessarily steel coating experts, so a liaison with other stakeholders is essential to achieve better results.

It would also be helpful to solicit advice from contractors, who can assist in setting up contract requirements and specifications. If contracts and owners hold contractors accountable, good contractors will thrive, while contractors who perform subpar work will see a need to improve which should help avoid the financial strain of redoing work.

And so, are contractors going to be part of the Group?
I would love to have contractors in the Group, but unfortunately we have not been able to attract them. Contractors could greatly help the Group shape an innovative bid process that awards contracts based on the best value and not the lowest cost. In Florida we have experimented with warranties as a first attempt to try to achieve this goal.

What is your experience with product Manufacturers?
Since Owners are in general reluctant to try new products, a major challenge faced by Manufacturers is the release of new products that do not have a track record. Accelerated testing is good way to prove the durability of coatings as an alternative to the track record. However not all Owners have the same Lab capabilities as FDOT in carrying out this challenging test.

Any closing thoughts?
A steel bridge coating system that lasts longer saves money over time and extends the overall service life of the infrastructure. Future generations will reap the financial benefits of long lasting coating systems, due to reduced maintenance costs. The commitment of our Group is to raise awareness of different solutions and provide tools to help Owners make correct choices.

TSP2 Bridge Preservation Coating Working Groups:

Jeff Pouliotte’s Presentation at TSP2 National Meeting in Atlanta in 2012

Jeff Pouliotte’s Presentation at TSP2 National Meeting in Orlando 2014
http://nbppc2014.org/opening-a- rational-approach- for-planning- bridge-repainting- projects-pouliotte/

Paint & Coating TSP2 Video Library:
SEBPP Paint Report Presentation – Pouliotte
Report – A Rational Approach for Planning Steel Bridge Repainting Projects
Bridge Cost Analysis – Calculator

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