- CAIT Main
- Infrastructure Areas
- Program Sites
- ANDERS - Automated Nondestructive Evaluation and Rehabilitation System
- BEAST - Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing
- CAES - Center for Advanced Energy Systems
- FMP - Freight and Maritime Program
- ICMP - Infrastructure Condition Monitoring Program
- IMG - Information Management Group
- LESS - Laboratory for Energy Smart Systems
- LPS - Laboratory for Port Security
- LTBP - Long-Term Bridge Performance Program
- NJ LTAP - NJ Local Technical Assistance Program
- PRP - Pavement Resource Program
- PSSP - Pipeline Safety and Security Program
- SAM - Structures and Advanced Materials
- SSML - Soil and Sediment Management Laboratory
- TSRC - Transportation Safety Resource Center
- TTG - Technology Transfer Group
Construction complete, the BEAST is ready to roll
CAIT has unveiled a massive project created to tackle one of our country’s critical issues: decaying bridges. The world's first Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing lab—a.k.a. The BEAST—has the potential to save billions in infrastructure costs.
The BEAST is the first facility in the world that can induce and speed up deterioration on full-scale bridge systems faster than ever thought possible, allowing researchers to see, in mere months, the effects of wear-and-tear that normally occurs over decades.
Using rapid-cycling temperature extremes, simulated precipitation, and a loading device that inflicts the same kind of beating as 24-7 heavy truck traffic, the BEAST “compresses time” and quantitatively measures stresses from the environment, traffic, and treatments like de-icing.
People are taking notice. After it was featured in the March Spotlight of the USDOT Office of the Assistant Secretary of Transportation-Research and Technology, on August 31, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation came to Rutgers for a tour.
State of affairs
Some people have trouble relating to how deteriorating bridges affect their life, but nothing drives home the urgency of the situation quite as clearly as when there’s a bridge out of service between where you are, and where you want to go.
The average age of America’s 610,700 bridges is 42 years and nearly one in four is deemed functionally obsolete or structurally deficient. In fact, FHWA calculates that more than 30 percent of U.S. bridges have already exceeded their 50-year design life.
Rebuilding 63,300-plus bridges that are rated structurally deficient is both logistically and financially impossible. Our only choice is to increase the lifespan and performance of the bridges we’ve got now. Identifying the best rehabilitation and preservation techniques, materials, and management strategies is the best way to maximize the service life of existing assets, and make new bridges last longer as well.
But, how do we know the choices we make today will still be the right ones 10, 20, or even 30 years from now? Everyone wishes there was a crystal ball that would show us the future performance of materials and structural components, especially bridge owners with the weight and responsibility of the public’s safety and millions of taxpayer dollars resting on their shoulders.
“A key challenge bridge owners contend with daily is the question of how to upgrade and extend the life of our assets, and just as importantly, how to prioritize their choices,” said Patrick J. Natale, recently retired executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers and now vice president for business strategies at Hatch Mott MacDonald. “With the BEAST, CAIT and its partners have created a way to scientifically project future performance based on reliable, real data, providing engineers and managers with much-needed information on which they can base these crucial decisions,” Natale said.
Genesis of the BEAST
The concept for the BEAST sprung from CAIT’s involvement as principal investigator of the FHWA Long-Term Bridge Performance (LTBP) Program. “As PI on LTBP, we interacted with state DOTs, bridge experts, and researchers across the country,” explains CAIT director Ali Maher. “We heard time and again that we needed a way to quantify the complex phenomena involved in the deterioration process far faster than gathering field data over a number of decades, which is how it’s been done to date.
“To replicate real-world effects, we knew from the start we would have to subject test specimens to climatic and traffic loading simultaneously. It also became apparent that, if we were to get an accurate picture of what was happening to in-service structures, testing full-scale bridge systems was key,” Maher says.
“If we could overcome these main obstacles—time, multiple loading factors, and scale—we were confident we could provide bridge owners with quantitative information fast enough to inform the decisions they must make now.”
The nature of the BEAST
In simple terms, here's how it works: The BEAST consists of a giant environmental chamber that encloses bridge test section—up to 50 x 28 feet—and a loading device, which resembles a truck chassis. The loading "cart" runs 24-7 at 20mph with up to 60,000 pounds of load, exerting forces roughly equal to a dump truck rolling over the deck more than 17,500 times every day. Meanwhile, rapid-cycling environmental “freeze-thaw” conditions—0 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit temperature fluctuations and application of salt brine (which is used for de-icing in cold climate)—subject the test sample to 15 years’ worth of seasonal changes in just six months. The frequency and intensity of these environmental and load inputs can fast-forward aging as much as 30 times.
Dr. Franklin Moon, a respected bridge expert, associate professor in civil engineering at Drexel University, and a long-time CAIT collaborator, reiterated the importance of compressing time such that it will give us answers almost immediately compared to field testing. “Many bridge owners are increasingly frustrated by the slow progress toward more durable bridges. A fundamental challenge is that it takes many years to understand and evaluate materials,” Moon says. “For example, let’s say a DOT does a trial implementation and observes real-time in-service performance of a deck overlay and they discover it really out-performs conventional approaches,” Moon posits.
“By the time its superior performance becomes clear—perhaps decades later—the company that produced the overlay may be out of business or they may have changed the mix. Meanwhile we’ve missed harnessing the enormous advantages of several generations’ worth of superior materials. Given the current state and deterioration rate of our bridges, we simply don’t have the luxury to take a ‘wait and see’ approach,” Moon says.
Building a first
Once the theory and calculations were thoroughly examined, CAIT needed a partner with the engineering experience, capabilities, and facilities to build something that had never been built before.
That’s when Applied Research Associates (ARA), an international scientific research and engineering firm, was hired to help CAIT work through the countless engineering questions involved.
For example: What was the most efficient and consistent way to apply the moving load and how could we move it end-to-end and laterally across the deck? How could we build a chamber big enough to enclose a bridge and still maintain stringent environmental parameters without blowing the budget for the whole project? How could the device be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of superstructures and work equally well for all of them?
These questions, and many, many others—from broad design issues to what kind of fittings were best for the brining system—had to be answered to keep the project moving forward.
The BEAST’s sheer size alone was, literally, a big issue. ARA senior vice president David Timian said it was the biggest machine the company has ever built, as well as the first environmental chamber on that scale. “This project took up our entire 67,000 square-foot design, fabrication, and assembly shop,” said Timian. “We had to move our HVAC and build a driveway behind the building so trucks could maneuver these huge components,” he said.
The main assembly for the loading device consists of two parallel steel “I” beams 120 feet long by 7 feet tall. The beams rest on support towers that are affixed to rail carts, allowing operators to lift and roll it out of the way when lowering test specimens into the chamber. The beams and support towers weigh 112,000 pounds. The rolling chassis, which hangs from the beams, can exert a load up to 60,000 pounds on the test specimens; it weighs 10,000 pounds and the winch that pulls the apparatus weighs about another 15,000 pounds. “After the beams were put together, we knew they would be too wide to fit through our existing 17-foot bay doors, so we had to widen the opening to 19 feet just to get it out of the shop,” Timian said.
After 17 months in the making, Timian and his team then had to figure out the most efficient and cost effective way to move the BEAST’s massive components from ARA’s plant in Randolph, Vermont, to the its home adjacent to CAIT’s pavement labs on Livingston Campus.
Moving the BEAST involved a heavy-hauling operation with several complicated moves and special equipment and plenty of know-how. Stephen Izzi Trucking & Rigging, Inc., was responsible for getting the main components of the BEAST from ARA’s shop to Rutgers. They enlisted High Transit, LLC, to haul the beam assembly.
The moving operation for all the components took 11 trucks, special rigging, and a four-axle rear-steerable dolly (as part of a 10-axle combination) for the 120-foot beams. All in all, Izzi Trucking & Rigging was responsible for moving 85 tons of steel components and 17 tons of ancillary equipment more than 300 miles. Once it all arrived on site, working with Eddie Shinn Cranes, Izzi used two 100-plus-ton cranes to rig the BEAST’s support towers onto specially designed rail carts, then lifted the 100,000-pound beam assembly from the truck and placed it on the support towers with absolute precision.
The beauty of the BEAST
“The BEAST beats up on bridge samples so we can make in-service bridges in our transportation network better endure the forces that are constantly beating on them,” said Andrés Roda, CAIT project manager and engineer who oversaw planning and construction.
“Working with FHWA, we're moving toward the first tests and aggressively pushing to have the BEAST in full operation soon,” says Roda. “We’re excited about its capabilities and proud to be leading the way in accelerated testing and bridge research.”
“The real beauty of the BEAST its ability to eliminate decades of gathering data on real bridges and provide information bridge owners sorely need now while minimizing uncertainties inherent in their decisions as they strive to reduce life-cycle costs and lengthen bridges’ service lives,” says Roda. “That's a beast that now bridge owners can harness.”
So what does this translate to for the average citizen? When it comes to the challenge of maintaining the country’s aging infrastructure, what we learn from the BEAST can lead to improving the condition of our roads and bridges, which, in turn, will enhance public safety and potentially save billions of dollars in infrastructure costs.
Public-Private Partnership that created the BEAST
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Rutgers School of Engineering
Rutgers University Facilities and Capital Planning
New Jersey Department of Transportation
Applied Research Associates
For more information on the BEAST and inquiries regarding testing, contact Dr. Ali Maher.
Photos top to bottom
Photos 1, 2, 3: Rigging and assembly of the BEAST in May. ©2015 Drew Noel Photography/Rutgers CAIT
Photo 4: ©2015 Loading cart in position. A. Thomas/Rutgers CAIT
Photo 5: ©2014 Rendering of experiment phase simulating precipitation at ambient temperature of 53°F. Industrial Motion Art/Rutgers CAIT
Photo 6: ©2015 Main beams on I-287 in transit from ARA in Vermont to Rutgers. ©iTV/Rutgers CAIT