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The bridge collapses in Washington and Missouri last week have people like Debbie Hersman, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, saying this is a “wake-up call for the nation”. In Washington, a truck that bumped against the steel framework caused the aging I-5 bridge to collapse, sending two vehicles and three people falling into the chilly Skagit River below. Days following this event, a highway bridge in Missouri collapsed when two freight trains below collided and parts of the train hit one of the bridges support pillars.

Bridge repair is needed, period. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, hundreds of bridges were built across the United States, and most of them were only intended to be stable for fifty years. After years of environmental exposure, increased traffic and increased loads, these bridges are not only being utilized beyond their years, but beyond their original capacity. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) recent infrastructure report card, the clock is ticking on many of those bridges right now and transportation funding can’t come close to meeting the demand for bridge repairs. In Washington state, 25{f00316eaeff19fc4d3daa6454136ee4db9a0ad1868aa2a79e58a2db09827821d} of bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In Missouri, the number is closer to 30{f00316eaeff19fc4d3daa6454136ee4db9a0ad1868aa2a79e58a2db09827821d}. Nation-wide, the ASCE estimates that one out of every nine bridges in the United States is structurally deficient. Between declining gas tax revenue, political gridlock and the aging U.S. bridge infrastructure, it’s a perfect storm with no obvious solution.
I-5 bridge collapses over Skagit river in Washington state
The I-5 bridge collapse over Skagit river in Washington state spotlights structural risks across the United States. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Mike Siegel)

 

Infrastructure repair and investment in this country is estimated to cost $3.6 Trillion over the next 20 years. But how many have considered alternatives to bridge replacement, such as carbon fiber structural reinforcement? HJ3’s carbon fiber systems provide the strength of steel without the weight and corrosion, and save structure owners 60{f00316eaeff19fc4d3daa6454136ee4db9a0ad1868aa2a79e58a2db09827821d} – 90{f00316eaeff19fc4d3daa6454136ee4db9a0ad1868aa2a79e58a2db09827821d} compared with replacement costs. HJ3’s Civil and Industrial CarbonSeal systems have been used on thousands of applications, from bridge repair to steel tank and steel pipe reinforcement, to underground PCCP and RCP strengthening projects.
Bridge repair with HJ3 carbon fiber
Bridge repair using HJ3’s carbon fiber systems to reinforce supporting concrete columns.

 

Bridge repairs can include the reinforcement of the supporting columns, slabs and walls, and girders themselves. HJ3’s carbon fiber systems have been used on all of the above components, saving clients millions of dollars in material and labor costs. As carbon fiber composite systems are accepted by credible agencies such as the American Concrete Institute (ACI), who perform numerous studies on such repair alternatives to traditional steel reinforcement, carbon fiber is starting to see more and more specification into infrastructure repair projects with state Departments of Transportation. Not only is this good for everyone to have a more cost-effective alternative to replacement, but this also means more bridge repairs can be performed under a given budget.
Bridge repair with HJ3 carbon fiber
Bridge repair with HJ3’s carbon fiber to reinforce the concrete beams and slabs.

 

The recent bridge collapses cannot be dismissed as coincidence as there are thousands of bridges across the US that may be one accident or one heavy load away from collapse. Many of these older crossings are kept standing by engineering design, not supported with brute strength or redundant protections like their more modern counterparts. Bridge regulators call the more risky spans “fracture critical,” meaning that if a single, vital component of the bridge is compromised, it can collapse. Reinforcement alternatives to replacement, such as HJ3’s carbon fiber structural strengthening systems, are both cost-effective and would allow more repairs to be done with less funding.