G. Randy Albert, P.E.
by G. Randy Albert, P.E. on March 19, 2012
Municipal Services Supervisor
PA Department of Transportation
Engineering District 2-0,
Every day brings new challenges to continuing to keep ahead of the problems with aging bridges on the local highway system in Pennsylvania. The problem is a reflection of similar situations on the state system and nationally as evidenced with all of the publicity being received on the condition of bridges on our highway systems. With these conditions in mind and being ever aware of the funding restrictions for local governments, we are constantly on the lookout for simple and cost effective solutions to municipal transportation problems. Local bridges throughout Pennsylvania consist of somewhat small structures on low ADT roads that are quickly being limited with weight restrictions of less than 15 tons, many of them being closed due to recent inspections. As with all infrastructures in an aging society, bridges are quickly becoming a liability and funding to replace them is limited and in many cases nonexistent. Municipal governments are working daily to stretch their funds and trying to "do more with less," an adage that sounds great in theory but in practice is difficult at best. New solutions to these problems come slowly and the improvements are incremental in the form of financial, time, and constructability. That is until the concept of GRS-IBS bridge abutments were developed and tested by the FHWA and implemented in various states surrounding Pennsylvania.
The problem with new ideas is that not everyone has the same vision and often funding has a way of preventing implementation or extensive utilization. It wasn’t until a critical closure of a local bridge forced Huston Township in Clearfield County Pennsylvania to seek a quick, economical solution to their bridge problem that GRS-IBS surfaced as a viable option. They came to us seeking a solution. With past knowledge of the process we introduced them to the GRS-IBS concept being promoted by the Federal Highway Administration through their Every Day Counts initiative. After review of the information on their web site and discussing the project with FHWA personnel, Huston Township embarked on building the first GRS-IBS structure in the state of Pennsylvania.
Throughout the process the representatives from FHWA were extremely informative and helpful. Undertaking a bold new initiative like this takes courage on the part of a small municipality. For this effort it was necessary for them to utilize their own funds to pay for the project and rely on the research and knowledge of those who chose the process before them. Throughout the process the municipality found it to be a relatively easy project to implement, economical and very effective.
They were met with challenges from the beginning including stream quality and pending elimination of a school bus route if the project were not completed by the winter on 2011. Emergency permits were acquired for the structure and in subsequent discussions with local conservation officials they actually like the concept due to its limited impact on the stream channel itself. It is being considered at a future training stop for a statewide environmental program. Ease of construction was another huge benefit in utilizing the process. The entire structure was constructed with the local township labor force with the exception of a hired excavator and operator. All other equipment was township owned or rented for the short duration of the project. The duration of the project was truly a demonstration of the potential of GRS-IBS. Claims of short construction times were evident in the published data as well as from other states that have implemented it. The Huston Township project took a total of 35 days to complete. This included the first day of excavation until the opening of the new bridge for vehicular traffic. In an era of months and years to complete similar projects GRS-IBS is serving the public through limiting closures and detours. Due to the use of this method the previously mentioned bus route was able to be maintained and the families that utilized it were grateful.
Finally the economics of the project have proven what others have claimed. With savings of over 50 percent compared to similar projects, the Huston Township Bridge ensured the public was served in the always important aspect or fiscal responsibility. Accurate cost data was maintained on the project and comparable costs data was obtained for similar projects. The results of this data are amazing and cannot be ignored when considering replacement of bridges in the future. These savings were realized due to the ease of construction, time saved, and the use of readily available materials as well as utilizing the local labor force. The GRS-IBS system has the potential to transform the way we look at bridges and structures. While the tried and true methods have served the transportation community for many years there are opportunities to look to the future and the unique use of materials to help solve the problems with our highways and bridges. Creative designs with careful evaluation and testing will ensure the safety of the public is protected while providing economical and effective solutions. In the case of GRS-IBS, pioneers of transportation are forging the way for our transportation dollars to be used to their maximum extent possible; a responsibility that we all bear as public servants.