What are the issues between those two sides?
The industry feels that the state’s testing requirements are too stringent. I’m not aware specifically of what those objections are, but what we’ve been trying to do is get the two groups together and see what those issues are and what compromises can be made, if any.
Why did the IBRC program end?
The exact program terminated with the end of the T21 highway bill. The bill officially ended in 2003, but was extended for two years after that without official legislation. There were more projects during that time, but it has since evolved into a different program called the Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment (IBRD) program, which looked more at projects on a systems basis instead of just specific high-performance materials. They wanted to branch out into bridge modular sections, and the means of accelerating bridge construction. But the funds aren’t as high as the previous program, and are not entirely dedicated to bridge-type projects.
Can that industry/government cooperation happen?
Yes. If the technology is going to move forward, it does have to happen. I think people want that to happen, and we’re certainly in favor of that happening.
In your interactions, what common concerns do you hear from industry?
The big issue continues to be cost. The cost of these materials is high on a first-cost basis. It depends on the application; the rebar is higher as well as deck and superstructure applications. The costs have come down over the years to about 50 dollars per square foot, but that is still twice as expensive as a conventional concrete deck. That cost factor weighs heavily with agencies because I think they still look a lot at initial cost. The composites industry needs to show advantages on a life-cycle cost basis. That kind of long-term performance data is lacking. The oldest vehicular composite bridge is now 15 years old. It may be performing well, but there needs to be the assurance on its long-term performance.
Are there test methods to address that issue?
Dr. GangaRao has developed a deterioration test for the rebar that estimates a service life of 75 to 80 years. But the biggest problem area we see with these projects is not with the FRP deck itself, but the overlay material on top of the deck. In many cases, that material has become delaminated and is de-bonded from the FRP deck as a result. The overlay isn’t a large structural item, but it’s still an important maintenance item that must be dealt with.