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New Center To Improve Region’s Roads, Tunnels, Bridges

Feb 01, 2019 09:35AM

UMass Lowell

LOWELL  – UMass Lowell researchers are developing ways to improve the durability and longevity of New England’s roads, bridges and tunnels as part of a new initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Funded by $14 million from the U.S. DOT, the Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center (TIDC) will bring together researchers and students from universities across New England to advance solutions that improve the region’s infrastructure.

The center will tackle problems such as the toll New England’s winter weather takes on roadways, bridges and tunnels. The salt used to de-ice road surfaces further damages foundations and pavements and corrodes steel structures, creating costly problems for motorists, cities and states.

“The center will develop more efficient and effective sensing, monitoring and assessment technologies for our aging infrastructure, create new construction materials for better performance and develop new platforms for automated and connected vehicles,” said UMass Lowell’s Tzuyang Yu, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Yu, who lives in Andover, is leading UMass Lowell’s research team, which includes Civil and Environmental Engineering Prof. Susan Faraji, Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Xingwei Wang, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Zhu Mao and Plastics Engineering Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan. UMass Lowell students participating in the project include Ruben Diaz, a civil engineering major from Dunstable, and Ph.D. candidates Ahmed Al-Zeyadi of Quincy, Cong Du of Dracut and Sanjana Vinayaka of Lowell.

One out of every five miles of highway pavement in the nation is in poor condition and the roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs, according to a 2017 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

“The U.S. has been underfunding its highway system for years, resulting in a $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge capital needs. The bulk of the backlog ($420 billion) is in repairing existing highways, while $123 billion is needed for bridge repair, $167 billion for system expansion and $126 billion for system enhancement,” the ASCE report states.

The researchers hope improvements to the civil infrastructure will result in lower maintenance costs, as well as enhanced safety, fewer traffic delays and accidents, and reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

“Working hand-in-hand with this new center will be an advisory board from state transportation departments and professional organizations to guide the group’s focus and ensure practical applications are brought to market,” Yu said.

Yu is already researching innovations that could contribute to the success of the new center. Last year, he, Wang and UMass Lowell Civil Engineering Prof. Pradeep Kurup, along with researchers from Saint-Gobain Corp. in Northborough, were awarded $853,000 in funding by the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) to create textiles integrated with optical fibers and sensors.

These next-generation fabrics are to be applied to structures such as pipelines and bridges to detect strain or cracks in their early stages, minimizing repair costs, environmental impacts and disruptions to people’s lives and businesses.

“The over-pressurization of gas pipelines, like what had happened recently in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover that resulted in tragic house explosions and fires, could have been prevented if such distributed sensing textiles were in place beforehand,” Yu said.

Along with UMass Lowell, partners in the new TIDC include the University of Maine, the University of Connecticut, the University of Vermont, the University of Rhode Island and Western New England University.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.

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