High-Tech Inspection

by Steven B. Chase, (M.ASCE), Technical Dir.; Bridge Res. and Development, Federal Highway Administration, McLean, VA,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 2001, Vol. 71, Issue 9, Pg. 62-65

Document Type: Feature article


The Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inspection Program requires the states to report the condition of its bridges as determined by visual inspection, and the FHWA uses this data to apportion its $3 billion budget toward replacing or rehabilitating the most deficient bridges. But visual inspections are not sufficiently detailed nor reliable enough to predict where significant but not-yet-critical damage is develoing in the nation's thousands of bridges. So the FWHA is developing and testing many types of technologically sophisticated ways to monitor and inspect bridges for damage that is either undetectable by the human eye, or that is simply in its beginning stages. Such methods include the nonintrusive measurement of load capacity, the detection and measurement of fatigue and vulnerability to fracture, the measurement and characterization of random, variable-amplitude cyclic stresses, and the detection of corrosion of steel rebar in concrete structures before the corrosion leads to failure. Some of these technologies can be built directly into the bridge�such as a smart bridge bearing that detects stresses�and some use wireless radio transmitters to send their data to control centers. Global bridge health and performance assessment in support of asset management and enhanced specifications must be, and arguably can only be, accomplished using such quantitative measurement methods.

Subject Headings: Inspection | Highway bridges | Bridges | Bridge tests | Steel structures | Load bearing capacity | Federal government

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