UTA developing better bridge inspections


The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) has received funding from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to use a testing system invented by a university researcher to inspect bridges for repairs without disrupting Texas commuters.

Suyun Ham, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, and Simon Chao, Professor of Civil Engineering, have received a US$534,000 (approximately £412,200) TxDOT grant to use Ham’s non-contact testing system to make faster, easier and more accurate determinations about when and where bridge repairs are needed. Chao, who is co-principal investigator on the project, will support the effort to evaluate the structural integrity of bridges.

“I would like to congratulate Professors Ham and Chao on receiving this funding. It is clear recognition of their leadership in the critical field of condition evaluation,” said Vistasp Karbhari, UTA President. “Advances being made by researchers such as Professors Ham and Chao in automating assessment and enabling rapid evaluation of the condition of our bridges are crucial to the maintenance of critical infrastructure in Texas and the nation. UTA continues to make a significant impact in our community as a leader in non-destructive testing methods through research that will have immense applicability to TxDOT.”

Ham’s system uses sensors mounted to a moving platform that can be pulled behind a vehicle. It detects mechanical waves created by an automatic impacting instrument striking the surface of the bridge. The waves can penetrate the bridge surface up to three feet deep and be mapped to a 3D image, similar to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to show hidden damage. Current methods require workers to drag or tap on the surface and listen for hollow sounds that could indicate potential problems.

Because the system is mounted on a trailer and operates on a particular frequency, it is not necessary to close lanes for testing. It can give engineers a better insight into the entire structure, which can be difficult to access.

UTA students Sanggoo Kang, Dafnik David, Yin-chao Wu, Muil Yang and Mohammed Alani complete the research team.

UTA has been an important TxDOT partner in evaluating and improving the state’s highway infrastructure, with a wide range of projects that include workforce development for concrete paving experts and studies that examine the safety, durability and environmental impact of the state’s roads and bridges.