EXPERT PITCH: WVU researcher says technology exists to minimize effects ship collisions have on bridges |  WVU Today

Hota GangaRao, a WVU civil engineering expert, is available to discuss technologies and designs that can protect bridges from barge collisions like the one that led to the March 26 collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.
(WVU Photo)

A West Virginia University civil engineer sees extensive recovery and reconstruction ahead after the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed Tuesday (March 26) due to a barge collision.

Hota GangaRao, Wadsworth Professor and director of the Built Facilities Center at WVU’s Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is available to explain the extent of structural damage to the bridge and discuss the available. options for minimizing ship impacts on bridges.


“To rebuild the bridge to the point where they can restore traffic will take, at least, several years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, in part because there are some additional problems associated with the failure of the main openings. that collapsed.

“No. 1, the pier that was struck must be examined and possibly rebuilt, depending on the extent of the damage. Second, there are approach spaces that need to be carefully considered before opening the bridge to traffic. And third, will they take precautions to prevent this type of incident from happening again?

“There are donut-shaped objects known as bridge pier bumpers that can minimize the impact when you have such an impact. They are not common in the United States, but they are quite common in China, and my lab has helped design a composite bumper that has better shock absorption.

“In February, there was a similar incident in China when a bridge collapsed near Guangzhou due to a barge strike. However, that bridge collapsed even though it had bumpers, because the barge hit the bridge above the level of the bumpers.

“In addition to bridge abutment bumpers, there are several other preventative measures that can be taken regarding the design of bridge piers. Both are very expensive.

One option is to have a much stronger connection of the superstructure—that is, the deck we travel on—to the piers. The second possibility involves designing the bridge in a way that accounts for the fact that when a barge hits the bridge, the impact can create a torsional instability at the top that leads the superstructure to collapse, depending on the speed and tonnage of the barge and its angle. to the pier.

“The forces generated by a barge strike can potentially, under specific circumstances, be much higher than those generated by an earthquake or explosion. Current standards for bridge design include brief recognition that engineers must account for situations such as barge strikes – but the question is, is this a one-in-100-year event? This is where economics comes into play.

“There may need to be somewhat stricter specifications to account for these types of incidents. It may be time to accept that more fixes will cost more money. While we cannot completely prevent accidents like these, at least we can minimize the damage, not only from a bridge design standpoint, but also by developing new bumpers for the surrounding bridge piers.” Hota GangaRao, Wadsworth Professor and director of the Built Facilities Center, Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

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