An inspection of the East Fork Bridge in East Lynn, W.Va., revealed that corroded piles hindered the use of the 40-year-old bridge that linked State Route 37 to a popular recreation site. West Virginia authorities quickly became concerned for public safety and visitors used to camping, boating, fishing, hiking and picnicking at the recreation site were inconvenienced by the new safeguards that were implemented. Officials considered closing the bridge after structural engineers found that up to 50 percent of its steel pilings had corroded away. However, a group of engineering students from West Virginia University teamed up with members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repair the bridge using composite materials.

According to John Clarkson, engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington Division, this project was an opportunity to fix the bridge at one third of the cost of traditional methods. “We funded research and development that can now be applied to other civil works projects globally and partnered with world-renowned experts and graduate students from West Virginia University,” said Clarkson.

To repair the bridge, the corroded steel beams were wrapped in composites and injected with concrete. The concrete and the composites that encase it provide three layers of protection against future corrosion and give the bridge more than twice its original strength.

“Some of the advantages to using composites beyond the substantial cost savings compared to more traditional methods include shorter construction schedules and longer-lasting repairs with less-maintenance required,” said Clarkson.