President Obama has officially signed the 5-year, $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act that includes language that directs the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to contract with the Transportation Research Board (TRB) to assess the overall performance of more than 300 bridges built under the Innovative Bridge Research and Construction (IBRC) program. Half of those bridges were made with composites.

“Policy makers and the owners of these important assets should know how they are performing,” said Tom Dobbins, president of the American Composites Manufacturers Association. “We believe that this study will show that composite materials enable the country to build bridges that last significantly longer than bridges built with more traditional materials.”

The inclusion of the language is the culmination of work by the ACMA and its member companies who stressed the importance of the study to Congress. Congress officially approved the bill December 3. Back in October, the bill’s composites industry language, sponsored by Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT-5) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10), received unanimous approval from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was included in the House’s version of the highway bill. Earlier in the summer, companion language also passed in the Senate.

From 1999 through 2004, FHWA had provided IBRC funding to study those bridge projects. However, the FHWA had stopped tracking the performance of IBRC-funded bridges. This made it difficult to assess the effectiveness of composites in those bridges.

The study will assess the performance of the bridges built under the IBRC and compare them to bridges built with traditional materials and technologies. The study will also provide recommendations to Congress on how the installed lifecycle costs of bridges could be reduced through the use of these innovative materials and technologies. This, according to ACMA, should provide states with information to help improve the life-cycle performance of highway assests.

Dobbins says the follow-up to what he calls a “major victory” for the composites industry is to have ACMA’s Government Affairs and Composites Growth Initiatives teams collaborate with the U.S. Department of Transportation to make the study as comprehensive and meaningful as possible.