A nation’s infrastructure is critical to daily life. When things go wrong with roads, bridges, etc., people’s lives are impacted. And as America’s annual summer construction season demonstrates, the impacts often go far beyond mere inconvenience. The question is, can we do anything about it?
As long as there is infrastructure there will be a need for maintenance and repair. However, there are two things we can do to minimize the impacts. First is developing new means of building infrastructure so that it lasts longer and requires less maintenance. Second is finding ways to complete repair projects while minimizing the impact on daily life.
To that end, a Dutch company is on the verge of testing a revolutionary concept that involves installing temporary composite bridges that keep traffic flowing while existing bridges are being repaired or replaced. They have proven their system in concept. Now they are looking for five bridge projects they can use to test in the real world.
A Bridge on Top of the Bridge
The company, known as FiberCore Europe, has more than a decade of experience building fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) bridges for permanent placement. Over the last 10 years they have installed 1,000 structures. But now they have a different idea. They want to apply what they know about FRP bridges to infrastructure repair.
They have come up with a unique process that builds a temporary composite bridge on top of an existing bridge to create an entirely separate driving surface. Underneath that temporary bridge, construction workers can safely address their maintenance projects. They can replace decks, replace guardrails, and so forth.
Such a system would benefit both commuters and construction companies alike. Commuters would benefit by not having to be detoured or forced to endure traffic delays caused by lane reductions. Traffic would continue moving smoothly on the temporary structure.
Construction companies would benefit in that they could do their work in relative safety. They would not have to worry about the daily risks of sharing a limited amount of space with drivers. In theory, they could get their work done more quickly because they could also be more efficient.
A Revolutionary Idea
When you step back and think about what FiberCore Europe is proposing, you realize just what a revolutionary idea it is. We have never seen this kind of thing before in the US. Whenever we have to repair a bridge, we either reduce lanes or close the structure altogether. The most complex maintenance projects can take years to complete, all the while tying up traffic and making lives miserable.
FiberCore’s idea is simultaneously brilliant and simple. One cannot help but wonder if the person who came up with it used to build similar structures as a child. As kids, we could do all sorts of things with building blocks, Lego, and other construction materials. We could build things in our imaginations that could never be built in real life – at least until now.
Strong, Lightweight, and Reusable
The brilliance of temporary bridges rests in the fact that they are reusable. Bridge structures are constructed of prefabricated components that are delivered to the site and assembled. When the project is complete, you disassemble the bridge and haul the parts away. They are taken to storage or transported directly to the next job site.
As for using composites, regular readers of our blog know the routine. Composite materials are both strong and lightweight. They are better for infrastructure than steel, aluminum, and concrete (though concrete technically is a composite). So what’s not to love about the FiberCore solution?