CHARLESTON, WV (AP) To ensure that corrosion-resistent steel is wearing well on the state’s bridges, West Virginia University (WVU) engineers are taking bird’s and bug’s eye views of 100 spans across the state.
The bridges are all built with weathering steel, which combines traditional steel with copper, phosphorus, chromium and silicon to fight rust. The material has become popular around the state because it is designed to wear well and need less painting.
WVU engineers have been asked to inspect the bridges by the state Division of Highways and the Federal Highway Administration, which want to be certain the weathering steel is performing as intended.
So far, members of the school’s civil and environmental engineering department led by professor Karl Barth have inspected 20 bridges, including the New River Gorge Bridge.
"We literally walk on and under the bridge, trying to view as many different areas as possible," said Pedro Albercht, a University of Maryland professor who is on the inspection team.
To view the New River Gorge Bridge –– at 3,030 ft. (923.5 m) the world’s second-longest steel-arch span, and at 876 ft. (267 m) the nation’s second-highest –– team members used a rigging truck to see the underside up close.
"That was a little intimidating at times, especially when you’re 876 feet above ground,’" said WVU graduate student Jennifer Righman of Moatsville. "But it was definitely a lifetime opportunity that I’m glad I was able to be a part of."
Barth said the team is interested in older bridges to gauge how the steel is aging.
"On the other hand, we are interested in the newer weathering steel bridges to assess the influence of current construction practices on the weathering steel performance," he said.
After focusing mainly in the north-central part of the state, the team is planning visits to southern West Virginia to inspect another 40 bridges this winter and spring.
When evaluations are complete the team will submit a final report to the state and work to create guidelines for future use of the material.