Composites companies make inroads in the transportation infrastructure industry.

When the Broadway Bridge opened over the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., nearly 100 years ago, the 1,742-foot bridge with a concrete deck was state of the art. But time and traffic caused inevitable decline, and the bascule bridge has undergone numerous repairs to the structure and mechanics. ZellComp Inc., based in Durham, N.C., completed a partial deck replacement for this historic bridge last summer.

The city is immersed in the Portland Streetcar Loop Project to extend its streetcar service and link neighborhoods with a convenient transportation alternative. The 3.3-mile extension travels over the Broadway Bridge, requiring rail installation for the streetcars on the movable spans of the bridge. ZellComp was selected to install a composite bridge deck between the new rail lines.

“It’s essential to preserve this historic landmark, and that includes ensuring its structural integrity,” says Dan Richards, president and CEO of ZellComp. “An FRP bridge deck meets desired goals of using green construction materials as well as ensuring that bridges we build and rehabilitate today will last for future generations.” ZellComp uses a proprietary two-part open system, relying on mechanical fasteners. It doesn’t require on-site mixing of adhesives and bonding with adhesives. Richards says this made the ZellComp Decking System ideal for the Broadway Bridge, where there is significant moisture and temperature fluctuations.

The Broadway Bridge is just one of more than 600,000 bridges across the United States. Many of them need repairs, and long-lasting composite materials are a great solution. According to Better Roads Magazine’s 2010 Annual Bridge Inventory, published last November, 23.3 percent of America’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

And bridges are only one component of the nation’s transportation infrastructure in dire need of attention. In a 2009 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers evaluated our infrastructure, which includes bridges, roads, energy, solid waste, transit, rail and other areas. The ASCE gave our infrastructure an unacceptable D grade, estimating a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion to fix the problems.

There’s great opportunity for the composites industry. “The thing that keeps us interested in the infrastructure field is the enormous potential,” says Ray MacNeil, owner of Ray MacNeil Composites Consulting in Wexford, Pa. “What motivates people is the hope that we’ll achieve some breakthroughs.” He sites rebar as an example. FRP rebar is widely accepted, but still used far less than its steel counterpart. “If we could gain even five percent of that market, we’d be set,” says MacNeil. “It is staggering how much steel rebar is used.”