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How To Pick The Right Surface

Posted by Scott Reeve on March 25, 2020

We really like this FRP bridge deckIn my business I talk a lot about selecting the right surface for people to walk and run on. And not because my favorite sport, American football, is so dependent on the playing surface, whether it’s grass, ice, mud or artificial turf.  But because of the ever-increasing number of individuals that use outdoor trails and paths.  Finding the right surface is also the question I get asked most often when I talk with owners and engineers who are striving to deliver the best bridges possible for connecting trails, parks, commuter paths and transit stations.

For years, starting with the first pedestrian fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) bridge installed in 1996, suppliers typically used an epoxy grit overlay. Widely available, easy to use and relatively economical, this commercial product has found its way into everything from factory floors to commercial ship decks and flight decks for aircraft carriers. As FRP gained acceptance and was adopted for use in larger cities with higher traffic, these products wore down quickly. After re-surfacing a few of these decks, we conducted an extensive evaluation of six different commercial systems. The results of our study helped us identify a polymer aggregate system consisting of a polyurethane methacrylate (PUMA) that can accommodate a variety of aggregates. The system was first introduced in Europe in 2005, before gaining popularity in Canada. Today PUMA is the preferred non-slip surface for North America.

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how to pick the right surface for the job at hand. In this case, I am defining “right” as a surface that is safe for users, aesthetically pleasing and has long term durability to optimize value for bridge owners. 

Low Traffic Trails And Park Bridges
  • Epoxy grit surfaces are sufficient for weekend traffic comprised of walkers and bicyclists
  • Most economical option
  • Texture and friction can be adjusted during the application process
  • A range of colors is available from a large number of commercial suppliers
High Traffic Pedestrian Surfaces
  • PUMA is the right choice for bridges and rail platforms that experience heavy traffic
  • A superior non-slip performance is complemented by a grit size [surface roughness similar to asphalt] that is user friendly for kids who may fall when riding or running
  • Quartz aggregate is the baseline with a rating of 7 on the Rohr hardness scale with diamond being a 10
  • Quartz comes in a wide range of colors that can be used to accent or showcase a special structure
  • Colors can be alternated to create a pattern, blend with natural surroundings or minimize the appearance of surface dirt or rust
  • Gray can be used to resemble concrete
Pedestrian Surfaces with High Traffic and Snow Plows
  • Aluminum oxide aggregate is recommended for bridges or platforms subjected to steel snow plow blades
  • Aluminum oxide is rated a 9 on the hardness scale and wins the battle against steel plow blades
  • Aluminum oxide is available in smaller grit sizes for surfaces that need to remain kid friendly
  • Only available in black or white, a 25/75 black/white blend is preferable. The mix of black and white appears gray from a distance, makes dirt less noticeable and doesn’t retain heat like an all-black or asphalt surface
Vehicle Bridges
  • Roadway bridge decks require an aluminum oxide surface for durability
  • Larger grit sizes provide a higher friction, safer surface during heavy rains

Depending on your application, there are a lot of overlay products to choose from. But years of testing and experience have eliminated the guesswork, making it easy for bridge owners to match their surface requirements with the option that is safest and most durable.  

Topics: Infrastructure, FRP

Scott Reeve

AboutScott Reeve

Scott is the Director of Marketing for Creative Composites Group. For over 35 years, he has developed new applications using FRP composites; especially in the infrastructure sector. In 2005, he founded Composite Advantage, which is now part of CCG.

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