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Infrastructure Technology Institute

Developing a research Agenda for Transportation Infrastructure Preservation and Renewal


ITI Chief Research Engineer Daniel Marron discusses recent projects completed by the ITI Research Engineering Group.

Research is one of the keys to solving the crisis in America’s infrastructure. This was the focus of the fourth annual Spotlight Conference sponsored by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation and organized by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies. Held November 12-13, 2009 in Washington DC, the conference brought public and private infrastructure owners and managers together with researchers to discuss infrastructure preservation problems and needs and define a research agenda for the future. The planning committee was chaired by ITI Director Joseph Schofer. TRB management was provided by Thomas Palmerlee, Associate Director of the Technical Activities Division.

“Many elements of the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure are deteriorating as a consequence of aging and growing stresses,” Schofer said to conference participants. “Under these circumstances, it is particularly important to develop and deploy the best methods and technologies to support effective management of transportation infrastructure….The road map we develop together should serve as a guide for both research investors and producers in the deployment of resources and talent to assure the condition, performance, safety and security of the nation’s transportation system in the years ahead.”

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood kicked off the two-day conference by saying that the Obama administration is committed to revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure. To accomplish this, forward-looking, innovative transportation ideas and policies are necessary. “It’s a new day at DOT,” LaHood said, emphasizing the importance of maintaining assets and making them safe, efficient and sustainable.

Keynote presentations were given by three infrastructure owner-managers. Michael Miles, Deputy Director for Maintenance and Operations at the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) spoke about spending funds wisely so that all needs, not just some, can be fulfilled. He also explained that CalTrans is moving towards preventative maintenance to extend the life of structures for significantly less cost.

Robert Prince, Vice President of AECOM Transportation and former General Manager of the Massachusets Bay Transportation Authority, stressed the need to build support for transportation infrastructure preservation. “We are all in the same boat, and we need to tell our story better because the public doesn’t understand. We need to help them understand,” he said. The last speaker of the morning, David Connell, Vice President-Engineering of Union Pacific Railroad, emphasized the importance of research in driving further safety and efficiency improvements, as it would “set our future.”

Conference participants then worked in four breakout sessions to define a comprehensive research agenda for infrastructure preservation and renewal. The focal areas were Inventory and Condition Assessment, Innovative Materials for Preservation, Restoration, and Reconstruction, Strategies for Rapid Repair and Rehabilitation, and Methods to Support Infrastructure Preservation and Renewal. A key resource for this process was more than thirty poster presentations describing research activities and achievements. ITI and Northwestern University were well represented at the poster session. The ITI Research Engineering Group (REG) – David Kosnik, Daniel Marron, Mathew Kotowsky, and David Corr – presented five posters, and Civil Engineering graduate students Nathan Tregger and Zoi Metaxa presented their research with ITI researcher Professor Surendra Shah. The REG posters were co-authored by ITI researchers Professors Charles Dowding, Richard Finno, and Pablo Durango-Cohen.

The conference ended with presentations from each of the discussion groups and the development of research priorities by all participants. In addition to the lengthy research agenda, a series of six crosscutting themes was discussed throughout the conference.TRB prepared and issued the infrastructure preservation and renewal research agenda at the end of December. It was widely distributed at the 89th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January, 2010, and Schofer and other members of the planning committee are working with TRB and RITA to distribute the agenda even more broadly.

In the breakout sessions the REG presented several significant case studies of recent projects, including acoustic emission monitoring of two steel bridges, continuous remote monitoring of in-service historic utility tunnels, continuous remote monitoring of uplift bearings on a large truss bridge, and the use of wireless sensor networks to monitor crack growth on bridges.

Crosscutting Themes

A number of research and development needs arose in several areas addressed by the conference. The first five of these crosscutting needs directly address key barriers to implementing new concepts, and thus investments in these topics are likely to produce broad and important impacts on the field. The sixth, advancing technologies for condition and performance monitoring, aims to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of information for infrastructure management decisions.

1. Methods for rapid testing of new materials and designs
Implementation of new materials and methods is commonly slowed by uncertainties about long-term effective and efficient performance. Validated and reliable accelerated testing techniques will help overcome uncertainty about such innovations. Accelerated testing techniques must be sensitive to the effects of environmental, utilization, and aging factors on component and system condition and performance. These techniques should target new and recycled materials, innovative designs, and construction methods.

2. Responsive and flexible standards and specifications for new, advanced, and recycled materials, designs and systems
An important barrier to innovation and implementation is reliance on standards and specifications grounded in traditional materials and methods. A new concept may be rejected because there is no specification to support it, rather than because of inherent limitations. Updated and performance-based standards and specifications will help to advance innovation in infrastructure preservation and renewal.

3. Updated inspection standards and policies
The value of advanced sensor and monitoring technologies is limited by outdated inspection procedures. Modern and more flexible inspection standards and policies are needed to make effective use of new sensors and automated continuous monitoring capabilities, to manage inspection based on risk and condition, and to cover new materials and additional components of the transportation system.

4. Valuation methods to support infrastructure management processes
Reliable and credible information on the values of infrastructure options is needed to support more informed investment and management decisions. Research is needed to develop objective, quantitative, and monetary methods and models to estimate life cycle values for (a) automated monitoring technologies and methods; (b) preservation and renewal actions; and (c) keeping transportation facilities and systems in a state of good repair.

5. Training and education
Limitations of knowledge and skills about new materials and methods slow innovation in infrastructure renewal and preservation, creating a critical need to invest in transportation infrastructure education and training in universities, private entities, and public agencies. While training is not a research function, knowledge transmission is an integral part of the research process, both in academic institutions which have this dual mission, and research organizations that have a mandate to move products into practice. The training challenge is exacerbated by the need to renew the transportation infrastructure workforce at both the professional and technical levels, and it is accelerated by the rate of development of new technologies.

6. Continued development of infrastructure condition and performance sensors
While there has been much progress on new, automated sensors and remote monitoring technologies, a variety of enhancements are needed. In particular, sensors are needed to monitor a broader range of transportation system components extending beyond pavements and bridges. Advanced technologies that can monitor hidden and inaccessible components represent special needs. New sensors are also needed that can be easily deployed with minimum disruption to operations, are hardened for long life, and are responsive to new materials and designs.

Posters Presented by ITI Staff and Principal Investigators

Continuous Remote Condition Monitoring of an In-Service Historic Utility Tunnel
David Kosnik, Mathew Kotowsky, Daniel Marron, Richard Finno, and Charles Dowding

Continuous Remote Structural Health Monitoring for Life Extension of an Uplift Bearing Assembly on the I-65 John F. Kennedy Bridge in Louisville, Kentucky
David Kosnik, Mathew Kotowsky, Daniel Marron, and Theodore Hopwood

Assessment of Steel Bridge Details with Acoustic Emission Monitoring
David Kosnik and Daniel Marron

Wireless Sensor Networks to Monitor Crack Growth on Bridges
Mathew Kotowsky, James Kenneth Fuller, and Charles Dowding

Exploiting Advanced Inspection Technologies to Support Condition Assessment, Forecasting, and Decision Making
Pablo Luis Durango-Cohen and David Corr