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WMU engineers research new methods to inspect bridges for safety

a dump truck drives past cracked and broken concrete on bridge barrier
Paul Sancya/AP
A truck drives past a damaged barrier on the Davison bridge leading to I-75 in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013.

The team's work comes amid state and national legislative efforts to shore up the nation's aging infrastructure.

Engineers at Western Michigan University are working with the state department of transportation to develop better tools to inspect bridges.

Engineering professor Upul Attanayake and his research team are studying concrete deterioration in bridge girders, commonly known as bridge beams.

They hope to create new methods for inspectors to assess the conditions of bridges. They are also developing new ways to repair and maintain them.   

A grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation is funding the research project. Attanayake says MDOT is already keeping bridges safe for drivers. Federal guidelines require load-bearing bridges of more than 20 feet to be inspected every two years. Attanayake thinks the tools they are developing could provide a more detailed picture for inspectors.

“I don’t say right now that the system in place is not good,” said Attanayake. “No, they are doing the best job they can. But with the new technologies we want to go and look at, okay, what else we can do?”

Attanayake’s research team includes both graduate students and undergraduates. The team will present its work at national and international conferences. Attanayake says the grant from MDOT shows his students why their research matters.  

“We give them hands-on experience on real projects,” he said. “These are not hypothetical research projects. These are the real projects and the outcomes are going to be implemented, so they can see that.”  

MDOT granted the research team about $350,000 for the project.