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HOW IT ALL STARTED: Research work tests strength of spans. The Mifflinville (PA) Press-Enterprise, 1989

Whenever we look back at how we started this work and our first steps during the infancy of infrastructure testing, it brings back memories of the challenges and excitement of very early work and reminds us how far we have come. This is one of those times. We’re recalling this article published in The Mifflinville (PA) Press-Enterprise in 1989 about the University of Colorado research projects that Brett Commander and Jeff Schulz (co-founders of BDI) were a part of:

MIFFLINVILLE — Motorists puzzled by a strange-looking Winnebago that seems to be wired to the Interstate 80 bridge above Route 339 near here can rest a little easier.

The Winnebago, parked under the I-80 bridge for the last week, is not the strange communications system of aliens trying to find their way back home.

It is only Brett Commander and Jeff Schultz, two civil engineers from the University of Colorado, conducting a bridge test for their school.

The test, designed to measure stress and strain put on the bridge by vehicles passing over it, is actually part of two separate research projects, Commander said. The 26-year-old research assistant said the projects are funded by the Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT — at costs of $825,000 and $250,000 respectively.

“The PennDOT (project) is sort of like the FHWA (project),” Commander said. “We’re using the same equipment for both.”

Thirty-two electronic sensors dangling from the base of the bridge are connected to cables that continuously feed data to a computer inside the Winnebago. As cars and trucks pass over the bridge, the sensors measure vehicle weight and how much stress the bridge is undergoing, Schultz said.

A gas generator supplies power to the system during the day, and batteries power it all night, he added.

“With this equipment we should be able to theoretically calculate all the vehicular loads that are going over this bridge,” Commander said. “But we’ve yet to see if it actually works.”

Information gathered during the field test, Commander said, will be used by federal engineers who design and rate bridges for new construction. The information will also give the government an idea of how much weight passes over its bridges.

“We’re strictly concerned with trucks,” he said. “We assume all the overweight trucks detour around the weigh stations, and we’re hoping to get a more realistic idea of the actual weights going over the bridge.”

PennDOT’s goal is to develop an easier bridge field-testing system, Commander said.

“We have a contract with PennDOT to develop this stress measurement system, which is relatively easy as opposed to existing systems,” Schultz said. “The whole thing will fit in the trunk of a car.”

The existing tests take about three days to set up and include much more equipment than the one developed by the University of Colorado, Schultz said.

The 28-year-old Schultz said he has been testing highway bridges throughout the northern United States — including It in Pennsylvania — since graduating with a master’s degree in May. He said he hopes to wrap up Pennsylvania bridges by the end of October. The Mifflinville bridge test should be finished Saturday morning bridges in the southern United States, and the federal project is scheduled to be concluded next August, he said.

“I like it,” Schultz said of the work. I don’t even have a home. I put all my stuff in storage before I left.”

 Commander, who has been with Schultz for two weeks, said he also likes living on the road as long as the bridges are near a golf course.

“You have the sound of trucks rolling over the bridges to lull you to sleep, he said.

A copy of the original article in The Press-Enterprise

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