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Every Day Counts When Building a Bridge: Why UHPC is Ideal for PBES

Repair and Rehabilitation of Bridges

Every Day Counts When Building a Bridge: Why UHPC is Ideal for PBES

By Tim Lysett


Every Day Counts (EDC) is a program started by the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to encourage innovation in transportation construction projects at the state and local levels. New recommendations (called rounds) are published every two years. Contractors are more likely to win state transportation contracts if they embrace these EDC innovations, making it important to stay on top of the Every Day Counts initiative.

Both the EDC-3 and EDC-4 rounds focus specifically on a new concrete technology—Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC)—and its use in prefabricated bridge elements and systems (PBES). If you want to be considered for future bridge construction projects, knowledge of UHPC and how it fits into the PBES approach is essential.

The foundation: What is Every Day Counts (EDC)?

The FHWA, along with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), launched the Every Day Counts program in 2009. EDC aims to shorten the completion time for highway projects while also addressing the associated budgetary challenges.

The program identifies innovative materials and techniques that are not being used to their full potential. These new approaches can decrease project delivery time while improving construction site safety and sustainability.

The EDC works on a two-year model. The FHWA works with state and local transportation agencies and stakeholders to identify new innovations. The benefits, risks, and ease of implementation for each innovation are weighed during the selection process.

Once selected, regional summits are held, where industry leaders meet and discuss best practices around the new round of technologies. During these meetings, state and local agencies begin to identify which innovations meet the needs of their projects. They establish goals around implementation and begin searching for ways they can use these innovations during the next two years and beyond.

The first round of EDC innovations was published in 2011. The initiative has promoted more than 43 innovations and improved the delivery process for transportation projects.

Since its inception, every state has formed a State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) to encourage innovation as a standard practice when designing and executing transportation projects. Every state has used a minimum of 14 of the 43 innovations supported by EDC, with some states adopting more than 30.

As states continue to embrace EDC technologies, these innovations become standard practice for future transportation projects, making it important for contractors and industry stakeholders to be well-educated on the latest EDC technologies. Those who are using these materials and techniques will be the ones chosen for government projects.

Two recent EDC innovations relate specifically to a new concrete technology called Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC), which is revolutionizing bridge construction.

The connection: Ultra-High Performance Concrete for PBES

The EDC-3 innovations were released for 2015-2016. This was the first time Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) was included as a recommended technology for the concrete connections in prefabricated bridge elements and systems (PBES).

UHPC is an advanced form of concrete that is fiber-reinforced, making it stronger and more durable than traditional concrete. It is also moisture-resistant, lighter in weight, extremely resistant to environmental degradation, and has a longer useful life.

Prefabricated bridge elements are structural components of a bridge that are built off-site. Once complete, they are delivered to the construction site for installation.

Examples of prefabricated bridge elements and systems include:

  • Deck elements
  • Beam elements
  • Abutments
  • Pier elements
  • Superstructure systems such as an arch span with deck and full-width beam span with deck
  • Superstructure/substructure systems such as rigid frames with parapets

The PBES approach reduces on-site construction time, which minimizes the impact on traffic congestion and pollution at the project site. It also increases worker and resident safety since less heavy-duty work is performed at the site.

Prefabricated bridge elements and systems require field-cast connections that are strong yet simple to construct. Connections can be expensive, difficult to construct, and less durable when done with traditional concrete. Connections require a strong bond to both the concrete and rebar and a strong, durable material.

UHPC is a superior connector, delivering many benefits to PBES:

  • Ease—The mechanical properties of UHPC allow for small and easy-to-manage connections.
  • Reduced material requirements—A smaller amount of UHPC is needed for field-cast connections as compared to traditional concrete.
  • Durability—UHPC connections have a better long-term performance than those made with regular concrete.
  • Speed—UHPC connections can be built quickly.
  • Longevity—UHPC is more adhesive than regular concrete, increasing the lifespan of bridges built with PBES.
  • Environmental sustainability—Shorter projects, less traffic congestion, and reduced maintenance have a positive impact on the environment.

FHWA’s belief in the benefits of UHPC for PBES is so strong that this innovation was once again named in the EDC-4 round for 2017-2018. The EDC-4 UHPC team has been educating states on this new concrete technology and how it can benefit bridge construction projects.

Nineteen states and Washington, DC are demonstrating and evaluating UHPC connections for bridges. Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island made UHPC connections a standard practice on bridge projects using prefabricated bridge elements. We expect other states to follow suit.

Companies looking to win bids for bridge-building contracts must be aware of UHPC for PBES connections. To assist in this endeavor, FHWA created a construction checklist for UHPC connections for PBES.

Bridge owners can use the checklist when developing inspection procedures for UHPC connections. The document covers the entire range of the project, from pre-award to project closure. Additional technical information on the design and construction of UHPC connections is available as well.

Concrete examples of UHPC for PBES

The New York State Department of Transportation and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation are both advocates of UHPC connections.

The Indiana Department of Transportation used accelerated bridge construction and PBES to build the $103 million Milton-Madison Bridge. This approach allowed the old bridge to stay open to traffic during construction. Once ready, the new bridge was slid 55 feet from temporary piers onto the original, refurbished piers.

Other examples include:

  • Cat Point Creek Bridge in Richmond County, Virginia
  • Mars Hill Bridge in Wapello County, Iowa

A full map of UHPC bridges in North America is available here.

As seen in the image above, the team at Cor-Tuf just completed a UHPC connection project for the Virginia Department of Transportation for a bridge in Warrenton on Blackwell Road. Several other DOTs have also reached out to us regarding UHPC for pier pilings given UHPC’s resistance to salt water. This makes it an excellent material for coastal bridges to increase longevity.

As more state and local transportation departments understand the benefits of UHPC for PBES connections, this advanced concrete material will become the standard for future projects.

Now is the time to cross the bridge and embrace UHPC for PBES connections. Those who fail to do so will be left behind, scrambling to catch up in order to win bids for bridge construction projects.

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