The International Bridge Conference was held in the Washington, DC area a few weeks ago. I was there along with other composite manufacturers and suppliers to promote FRP technology for a wide range of bridge applications. We used the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) exhibit booth as our home base to talk to visitors. We have found that it’s more effective to work as a group [versus individual companies] when it comes to highlighting this innovative material’s technical benefits.
On the first day of the conference, ACMA organized a workshop with six presentations on different uses of FRP in bridges with a focus on international applications. I presented information about how we used FRP vehicle decking to rehabilitate London, Ontario’s Blackfriars Bridge. FRP’s light weight was critical to the preservation of this unique bowstring, wrought iron arch truss bridge. The structure is beloved by the community. I found that Canada appreciated FRP’s performance characteristics and valued its’ longevity.
A great presentation on fiberglass rebar showed that this material is ready to take its place as a standard material choice. Cost analysis from the owner puts fiberglass rebar at the same price as epoxy coated steel rebar. And there are additional benefits such as easier installation and safer working conditions. Construction crews tasked with moving rebar over long spans can be confident it will hold up versus depending on a coating that can break during construction. With carbon strengthening as the baseline repair material for bridges, fiberglass rebar is lining up to be the second winner.
Other observations came from listening to the keynote speakers at the opening session. All were very candid with their words. It is refreshing to hear a person in a political position call legislative directed funding what it is, “pork.” There was lots of consideration for the social and human components of bridges; including safety and automation. Discussions also focused on how engineering terms that we consider descriptive can make the traveling public uncomfortable. On the conference downside, attendance appears to be lower given lack of DOT travel budgets and design engineering firms being so busy. Within the ACMA, we continue to look for the best ways to educate owners and engineers on FRP technology and products.