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Damage, Security Sensors Added to New Bridge Construction

Engineers add sensors to bridge under construction in Iowa Falls (Bridge Engineering Center, Iowa State University)

Engineers add sensors to bridge under construction in Iowa Falls (Bridge Engineering Center, Iowa State University)

Engineers at Iowa State University in Ames have added gauges and sensors to detect for damage on a reconstructed bridge in Iowa Falls, some 50 miles north of Ames. The project is serving as a prototype for similar systems with other bridge construction projects in the state.

The project involves Iowa State’s Bridge Engineering Center, where under a grant from the state’s transportation department, the center’s researchers installed more than 100 gauges and sensors. Those devices will provide continuous, real-time monitoring of the structural health, behavior, and security of the new U.S. Highway 65/Oak Street bridge. The new bridge keeps some the original 1928 bridge’s aesthetics, but its roadway is 18 feet wider and has a more secure foundation.

The sensors are expected to provide data about the bridge’s performance and condition, taking 100 readings a second for corrosion, strain, surface conditions, moisture within the steel arch and measure the structure’s movements over time. The bridge is also equipped to monitor the security of the structure and to record surveillance video.

The researchers are now setting up the data collection hardware and related software programs. Those systems scan the data and will trigger an emergency message to researchers, transportation officials, or police if they encounter unusual readings. The system will also display real-time data and video feeds on a Web site.

“This is a whole distributed network,,” says Brent Phares, the interim director of the Bridge Engineering Center. “There is an impressive information transfer infrastructure at that bridge.”

This phase of the project is expected to be completed by the middle of this summer. Ahmad Abu-Hawash, the Iowa transportation department’s chief structural engineer, says the Iowa Falls project is a prototype for a system that will monitor a new bridge planned for Interstate 74 over the Mississippi River connecting Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, Illinois.

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