Recognizing the need for a dedicated center for ABC, a group of renowned U.S. bridge engineering professionals gathered at FIU in Miami, Florida in November 2010. The group established – on a voluntary basis, without external funding and supported entirely by just $50,000 of seed funding from FIU – the Center for Accelerated Bridge Construction, with the objective of helping the bridge profession. The ABC Center at FIU officially commenced its activities in January of 2011, with a concentration on technology transfer of existing knowledge.
The ABC Center at FIU experienced immediate success. Beginning in March of 2011, the ABC Center at FIU offered free webinars on a monthly basis to engineers and other bridge professionals. These webinars attracted an average of 4,000 participants each month.
In September 2013 the US Department of Transportation awarded the Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center (ABC-UTC) proposal submitted by FIU and its initial partner universities (Iowa State University (ISU) and University of Nevada – Reno (UNR)). This first round funding of the ABC-UTC allowed the founders of the ABC Center at FIU to dive further into their mission of aiding the bridge profession by embarking on ABC-related research with emphasis on state of good repair, working to improve ABC workforce development, undertaking various educational activities and expanding the Center’s technology transfer activities. The ABC Center at FIU created a sturdy foundation on which to build the first UTC devoted solely to ABC, focusing on efficient bridge rehabilitation and rapid bridge replacement.
In December 2016 the USDOT awarded the ABC-UTC its second round of funding. This allowed the ABC-UTC to expand its capacity to provide solutions to the transportation industries needs at the national level with the inclusion of two additional partner universities: University of Washington (UW) and Oklahoma University (OU).
The mission of the ABC-UTC is to reduce the societal costs of bridge construction by reducing the duration of work zones, focusing special attention on preservation, service life, construction costs, education of the profession, and development of a next-generation workforce fully equipped with ABC knowledge.
The broad objectives of the Tier I Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center (ABC-UTC) are to advance the frontier of Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); develop new ABC knowledge; effectively transfer the state-of-the-art ABC knowledge to the profession; develop a next-generation ABC work force; provide leadership in making contributions to solve national transportation issues; and collaborate with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Departments of transportation (DOTs), other UTCs, and the transportation profession to make ABC the best solution for the nation’s aging bridge infrastructure in line with U.S. DOT’s strategic focus on State of Good Repair and with Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act research priority area: “Improving the Durability and Extending the Life of Transportation Infrastructure” and non-exclusive topic areas: “Construction Methodology” and “Application of New Materials and Technologies.”
Specific objectives of the ABC-UTC can be broken into three general categories:
- Extend principles of ABC to the repair, replacement and preservation of bridges, including multi-hazards and seismic issues.
- Enhance the service life of bridges constructed using principles of ABC by emphasizing design for service life (at the design stage), preservation, and timely maintenance.
- Assess effects of climate change, especially of sea level rise and precipitation patterns on bridges, and develop a general framework for agencies to take timely action.
- In collaboration with other UTCs that will be funded, especially those that will concentrate on highway safety, develop traffic safety systems specifically for modular bridge construction for all traffic levels.
- Develop decision tools, guidelines, and specifications for adopting principles of ABC for local agencies.
- In collaboration with other UTCs that will be funded, develop policy frameworks for rapid implementation of ABC principles.
- Building on existing knowledge, develop the next generation of decision-making tools for better communication among stakeholders, which should assess the merits of various construction processes and visualize the entire life span of bridges in a seamless manner from birth to recycling.
Education and Workforce Development
- Become the educational focal point for advancing principles of ABC.
- Develop and nationally distribute K-12 educational materials related to bridge engineering, and ABC in particular, for educating and attracting future generations of transportation and sustainability engineers.
- Develop educational materials that could be used in academia at both undergraduate and graduate levels for explaining fundamental and advanced topics in ABC.
- Develop and deliver continuing education opportunities on ABC for practicing engineers across the country.
- Develop and deliver educational training related to ABC to construction workers and traffic safety personnel across the nation.
- Serve as a national repository and focal point for assisting federal, state, and local agencies on matters related to ABC.
- Educate the current and next generation of engineers on when and how to effectively use ABC technologies.
- Lower the cost of utilizing ABC technologies by conducting outreach activities at the local, regional, and national levels that include the dissemination of research results.
- Develop implementable tools that follow the form and function of AASHTO-type publications.
Need for ABC
A significant portion of the existing roadway system in the United States was built over 50 years ago and is widely showing signs of increasing deterioration. Most U.S. roadways were designed to carry much less traffic than the current levels of service, and most bridges were designed for a 50-year design life. The cumulative effects of 50 years of heavy service and dramatic increases in demand have rendered large portions of the nation’s highway system substandard. Although these problems have long been recognized in large metropolitan areas, many of our rural highways now suffer the same fate, with substandard bridges and traffic volumes exceeding capacity for large portions of each day. Motorists across the nation are demanding an improved and sustainable transportation system. During the 30-year period between 1975 and 2005 alone, the increase in demand on the U.S. transportation infrastructure system was significant. During this period, the population, number of drivers, number of vehicles, miles traveled, and total weight carried increased by 32%, 63%, 90%, 132%, and 400%, respectively, while the roadway miles increased by only 6%. The discrepancy between demand and capacity is putting evermore stress on the nation’s bridges.
The need for the work of this UTC focused on ABC is evident when considering the state of bridges. According to the 2013 ASCE Infrastructure Report Card, bridges received a grade of C+ (“mediocre”) in spite of a sustained focus on the upgrade of substandard bridges over the past decade. Per ASCE, “Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States.”
Construction activities related to bridge replacement and rehabilitation are important contributors to traffic jams and reduced mobility and, most importantly, to safety hazards. The safety hazards attributed to construction work zones are alarming. “There were 87,606 crashes in work zones in 2010. There were 37,476 injuries in work zones in 2010. This equates to one work zone injury every 14 minutes (over 102 per day), or about four people injured every hour. In 2010, there were 514 fatal motor vehicle crashes in work zones, resulting in 576 fatalities. These 576 fatalities equate to one work zone fatality every 15 hours” (http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/). A single fatality can cost society more than $3M. This is not cost of life, but rather what society has to spend in litigation cost. Simply “….we cannot cross bridges that have fallen apart or connect commerce to ports in disrepair” (Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices 2045) and deficient bridges have to be fixed, while we eliminate interruption to traffic. Conventional construction practices have proven inadequate to address the magnitude of the problem now facing this nation. Highway system disruptions due to work zones must be considered when evaluating the need for rapid renewal procedures. ABC has the potential to reduce both the frequency and duration of work zone disruptions. Shorter and less frequent work zone disruptions, in turn, reduce societal losses from construction-related traffic accidents, traffic delays, tailpipe emissions, and poor system reliability.
ABC is a delivery solution method of building and repairing bridges with the capability to reduce the interruption to traffic and increase safety. ABC as defined by FHWA is “…a paradigm shift in the project planning and procurement approach where the need to minimize mobility impacts which occur due to onsite construction activities are elevated to a higher priority. Intrinsic benefits of the ABC approach include improvements in: Safety, Quality, Durability, Social costs and Environmental impacts” (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/abc/).