Composite Bridge

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - 2:52pm

Maine unveils new type of bridge that's the envy of transportation departments nationwide.

A new bridge in the coastal town of Boothbay, Maine is providing a showcase for a new technology that's been tested and made in Maine.

The bridge was constructed using hybrid composite beams that are being made in Brunswick. The lightweight beams are made using fiber reinforced polymer. Used in conjunction with concrete and steel, they make a stronger, longer lasting bridge. They're now generating a lot of interest from transportation officials across the country.

There is nothing else quite like the Knickerbocker Bridge in Boothbay. At 540-feet it is the largest composite bridge in the world. Maine Department of Transportation officials decided to move forward with use of the hybrid composite beams made to construct the bridge after spending years watching the technology develop.

The beams are the brain child of structural engineer John Hillman.

Mr. Hillmans says "the laminates that we use are the same stuff you make boats out of and put in the ocean, its the same stuff you use to build sulfuric acid storage tanks. so the intent is to have a very durable and long lasting structure."

DOT officials expect this bridge to last at least 100 years. The beams were tested at the University of Maine and are being manufactured at Harbor Technologies in Brunswick. Their cost is comparable to the traditional materials used to construct bridges, which is why they are starting to generate a lot of interest.

Engineers and transportation officials from across the country are coming to Boothbay to get an up close look at the bridge.

Ken Sweeney, MDOT Chief Engineer, says "to bring engineers and people from around the country to see the technology and see what we've been able to do here and made bring some of that technology to them as well as bring some business to the state of maine."

The hybrid composite beams have also been used on bridges in New Jersey and Illinois. Transportation officials in Missouri have already ordered some for three bridges they're working on.

They say the lightweight design will help save a lot on shipping costs. For one bridge they'll need just two trucks to haul them. A far cry from concrete and steel beams.

Stacy McMillan of the Missouri Dept. of Transportation says "15-trucks, lots of permits, lots of travel restrictions through big cities. you wouldn't be to travel certain times of day so there would be a lot of headaches getting them there."

Light, durable, and cost effective. With the nation's bridge infrastructure in desperate need of repair or replacement, the future is looking very bright for these Maine-made products.

Maine DOT officials say they plan on using the composite beams for a smaller bridge in turner and a highway overpass bridge near Bangor.

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