American Society of Civil Engineers

Field Experiments and Numerical Models for the Condition Assessment of Historic Timber Bridges: Case Study

by R. H. Sangree, P.E., M.ASCE, (Postdoctoral Researcher, Dept. of Civ. Engrg., Johns Hopkins Univ., 13 Latrobe Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218. E-mail: and B. W. Schafer, P.E., M.ASCE, (Assoc. Prof., Dept. of Civ. Engrg., Johns Hopkins Univ., 203 Latrobe Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218 E-mail:

Journal of Bridge Engineering, Vol. 13, No. 6, November/December 2008, pp. 595-601, (doi:

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Document type: Journal Paper
Abstract: Covered wooden bridges and the principles of heavy timber framing by which they were built represent both a significant chapter in this country’s civil engineering heritage, and a subclass of bridges that are in immediate need of repair and rehabilitation. This work often falls on the shoulders of the municipalities who own the bridges or local consulting engineering companies, neither of which have the resources to perform state-of-the-art damage assessment analyses. This study presents two case studies in which a simplified approach to damage assessment is used. The writers explore the importance of proper condition assessments, including both field observations and load tests, to the creation of viable finite-element models that practicing engineers may use in their repair and rehabilitation of these unique structures. Experimental tests were performed on two covered bridges: Morgan Bridge in Belvidere, Vermont and Pine Grove Bridge, in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and comparisons were made to finite-element models created of those bridges. The combination of experimental and numerical tools led to the identification of several deteriorated components, including scarf joints, lapped brace joints, and retrofitted members within the bridges that may have otherwise gone undetected.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Bridge tests
Case studies
Timber construction
Truss bridges
Wooden bridges