WMU students, professors working to build bridges of the future

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal infrastructure funding legislation will soon provide $563 million to Michigan for repairing and replacing bridges, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday.

The Center for Structural Durability at Western Michigan University is already teaming up with Michigan Department of Transportation to build a bridge near Detroit that will be the biggest of its kind in the U.S.

Rendering of the bridge. (Courtesy of Tetra Tech, Inc. and HDR, Inc.)

Dr. Upul Attanayake, a professor of civil and construction engineering, says there is a clear need for investing in Michigan bridges.

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“Our infrastructure is designated as grade D in American Society of Civil Engineer reports. In some places it can be C and in most places it’s in D condition so that means we need to have adequate funding to upgrade,” Attanayake said.

Attanayake is working with MDOT, private companies and a team of Western engineering students on a new Second Avenue Bridge over I-94 in Detroit.

The new bridge is being built in a nearby parking lot. Crews will move it in place with new equipment specially designed to move the five million pound structure.

Courtesy of Western Michigan University

One of the benefits of this technique is I-94 will only need to be closed for a little more than a week in total, causing less disruption to traffic.

The WMU team has placed sensors in the bridge to gather data on how the design performs.

Harsha Amunugama, a Ph.D. student working on the effort, says it is exciting to be part of a real-world project.

“It’s a good experience for me as I am in school contributing to this project because we started from scratch,” Amunugama said.

While the professor is encouraged about new intrastate funding, the federal money sent to Michigan will need to be spent over five years, and Attanayake says a long-term funding solution is needed to ensure the bridges are kept in good shape in the future. 

“It’s not just looking at what we call structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges. We need to look at how to enhance the capacity to carry the larger loads that we see,” Attanayake said.

The bridge is expected to be finished in the spring or summer.

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