Bridge research could lead to smoother rides down the road

(Madeleine Wright, WPRI-TV)

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island roads — and specifically, bridges — have gotten bad report cards in the last few years. Bumpy rides are part of it.

But a smooth drive over a bridge is more than just about comfort for drivers and passengers. University of Rhode Island associate professor of civil engineering Mayrai Gindy is measuring the smoothness of ten bridges in the state, to see how a smoother concrete bridge deck can actually lengthen the life of a bridge.

Wednesday, traffic was down to one lane on the Laurel Avenue Bridge in Coventry, while Gindy and her team of researchers were measuring the bridge’s condition.

A concrete bridge deck is often rougher than the roads at either end, and not only presents a contrast to cars and trucks and riders, but actually contributes to the bridge deck deteriorating prematurely, Gindy says. Furthermore, during the winter, salt from de-icing sprays seep into the cracks of bridges all over the state, corroding the steel underneath.

Among other things, that means potholes.

“If you have a new car, old car — as soon as you drive over a pothole, you say, darn, I wish that wasn’t there!” said Kelly Wharton, a URI grad student working with Gindy.

Gindy’s research will help figure out where to place steel beams under future bridges for maximum support.

“It’s really satisfying to know that research can directly translate into practical solutions!” Gindy said.

A $131,370 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is helping to pay for the research, including for some high-tech measurement tools — which Gindy is sharing with the agency once the bridge project is complete.

“We all benefit as taxpayers, I think, if we are relying on the advanced technology to save us money eventually,” said Gindy.

She expects to complete the research project by the end of the year.

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