U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
Purpose: There are approximately 600,000 bridges in the United States, which include bridges on the National Highway System and bridges maintained and operated by various State and local entities. These bridges are essential to our Nation's mobility. The Structures Laboratory is a unique facility at Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, which specializes in developing and testing innovative bridge designs, materials, and construction processes that promise safer and more efficient structures in the Nation's highway system.
The purpose of the Structures Laboratory is to support FHWA's strategic focus on improving mobility through analytical and experimental studies to determine the behavior of bridge systems under typical and extreme loading conditions. These experimental studies may also include tests of bridge systems developed to enhance bridge durability and constructability over time. Data from these studies help upgrade national bridge design specifications and improve the safety, reliability, and cost effectiveness of bridge construction in the United States.
The Structures Laboratory also provides bridge failure forensic investigation services to State departments of transportation, FHWA divisions, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and other organizations. Through this forensic service, the laboratory determines the causes of bridge structural failures and develops practices and procedures to help avoid similar failures from occurring in the future.
Description: The Structures Laboratory has the capability to perform a broad range of tests to characterize the performance of bridge structures and structural systems. This capability resides in five individual facilities: the main Structures Laboratory, the annex structures laboratory facility, the outdoor testing facilities, the computer modeling and simulation facility, and the metallic material testing facility.
The main Structures Laboratory (figure 1) is a state-of-the-art facility for indoor testing of full-scale bridge structures and large components. This laboratory, built in 1984, consists of a strong floor with a universal loading frame that can be customized to erect and test full-scale bridges. This strong floor measures 181 by 51 feet (55.2 by 15.5 meters) and includes a grid of 573 tie-down holes. Two 20-ton (178-kilonewtons) overhead cranes service the entire floor area and can operate separately or together to unload trucks, erect structures, and set up experiments.
|Figure 1. Overhead view of the main Structures Laboratory showing: (1) Full-scale box girder experiment with blue frame (left), (2) Concrete reaction wall (center) used to perform gusset plate experiments, and (3) Two blue frames (back right) to perform fatigue of steel composite girders.|
The annex structures laboratory facility—the original Structures Laboratory—was built in the 1960s and still provides additional testing capability. The annex structures laboratory facility has a strong floor area measuring 12 by 40 feet (3.7 by 12 meters) and has one 15-ton (89-kilonewtons) overhead crane.
The Structures Laboratory's outdoor testing facilities, consisting of permanent geosynthetic reinforced soil abutments and an outdoor strong floor, were constructed during the late 1990s to provide additional capacity for testing large-scale components subjected to environmental loading. The permanent test abutments cover a single 70-foot-long (21.35-meters-long) span with a width of 13 feet (3.95 meters), and the outdoor strong floor measures 25 by 30 feet (7.6 by 9.2 meters).
The material testing laboratory maintains the capability to evaluate a wide variety of material properties of steel and concrete, including strength, elastic modulus, dynamic fracture toughness, static fracture toughness, and fatigue crack growth. Digitally controlled servo-hydraulic load frames are used for fracture and small specimen material strength testing. The laboratory also maintains the capability to perform microscopic examination of fracture surfaces and the microstructure of metallic materials and welds. These capabilities are utilized to support the research activities in the Structures Laboratory and to assist in forensic evaluation of failures in the fields.
The computer modeling and simulation laboratory allows researchers to build and analyze detailed models capable of simulating experimental test results with very high accuracy.
Laboratory Equipment: The Structures Laboratory and facilities contain the following equipment.
Uses: The Structures Laboratory and its facilities continue to perform the following activities.
|Figure 2. View of 200-kip servohydraulic test frame in the Material Testing Laboratory performing standard uniaxial tensile test on steel coupon. Features of the frame shown in the figure from top to bottom include: (1) a load cell to measure applied load; (2) a grip to grasp and hold a specimen; and (3) a laser extensometer to measure change in the test coupon.
|Figure 3. View of 1,000-kip servohydraulic test frame in the Material Testing Laboratory. The frame has a capability to perform tests to characterize concrete and cementitious materials. Specification of the frame include: (1) compression force rating of 1,000 kips; (2) tension force rating of 500 kips; and (3) floor loading footprint of 39 inches wide by 24 inches deep.|
|Figure 4. View of the 550-kip four-column servohydraulic test frame in the Material Testing Laboratory. The frame, which stands 220 feet above floor level, is used in testing full-scale structural components. Other features of the load frame include a column diameter of 6 inches and column spacing of 20 inches by 30 inches.|
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Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center
6300 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22101-2296
|»||2011 FHWA Infrastructure Research and Technology Strategic Plan Goals and Objectives|
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|»||Pavement and Materials Discipline|
|»||Bridges and Structures Discipline|