Researchers investigate improved bridge repair after collisions

Posted by
On January 25, 2021

Dr. ElGawady and students investigating damaged concrete girder

Dr. Mohamed ElGawady and his students investigate a damaged concrete girder in Missouri S&T’s High-Bay Structural Engineering Research Laboratory as part of their research into improved bridge repair.

Vehicle collisions with bridge supports or girders are the second leading cause of bridge collapse in the United States, with an average of three such collisions per day, according to researchers at Missouri S&T who are studying ways to improve bridge repair and cut costs for cities and states.

A railroad bridge in Kansas City, Missouri, is an example. According to news reports, the Independence Avenue Bridge has been struck by trucks multiple times in recent months despite signs warning of height restrictions. Reports indicate the Kansas City Terminal Railway has spent $100,000 on signage and repairs over the past decade.

The Missouri S&T research project could reduce those types of repair costs for municipal and state governments and enhance bridge safety by finding more efficient repair methods.

Truck-bridge collisions such as these can significantly weaken structures and lead to dangerous bridge conditions. Photos courtesy of Nebraska Department of Transportation.

“We are looking at two things in this project,” says lead researcher Dr. Mohamed ElGawady, Benavides Faculty Scholar and professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri S&T. “First, we examine the remaining strength in a girder after impact. Second, we investigate how to repair the girders to recover their original strength.”

The research will address the lack of design tools that indicate how much load-bearing strength remains after impact, ElGawady says, adding that once repairs made, there is not much current research on the load-bearing capacity of the repairs.

ElGawady says there are two possibilities for repair – splicing together severed strands to repair damaged girders or making repairs using advanced materials such as fiber-reinforced polymers. ElGawady says the researchers will use materials that are readily available to entities needing to make repairs rather than researching new materials.

“We’re looking at very recent developments in ultra-high-performance concrete – state-of-the-art material that is emerging or on the market that they could use now,” he says.

ElGawady and his team at Missouri S&T are working with researchers at the University of Idaho to conduct numerical simulations that calculate damage from a vehicle hitting a bridge. Elgawady says they hope to secure an outdoor location where they could conduct actual tests with a mass hitting a girder.

The three-year research project is supported through $755,000 in pooled funding managed by the Missouri Department of Transportation. Other contributing states are Texas, Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho and Alaska, as well as the Federal Highway Administration. ElGawady says Mid-America Transportation Center has provided $85,000 in supplemental funding.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic and associated budget cuts, it was a really tense time for the states to dedicate money for this research,” says ElGawady. “That they did is another indication that this is a really serious issue.”

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Founded in 1870 as the University of Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,600 students and part of the four-campus University of Missouri System. Located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 99 different degree programs in 40 areas of study, including engineering, the sciences, business and information technology, education, the humanities, and the liberal arts. Missouri S&T is known globally and is highly ranked for providing a strong return on tuition investment, exceptional career opportunities for graduates, and an emphasis on applied, hands-on learning through student design teams and cooperative education and internship opportunities. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit

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