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Research at WVU aims to improve local, national infrastructure


Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — West Virginia University was given a research designation of R1 in February 2016.

Institutions in this category are designated as having the highest research activity. This has an impact on the reputation of an institution and helps attract new students, WVU Vice President for research Fred King said in a Daily Athenaeum article.

According to WVU president E. Gordon Gee, the goal of the school is two-fold: to conduct research and to pass on the findings.

One area that is being investigated through research at WVU is infrastructure. Director of WVU’s Constructed Facilities Center, Dr. Hota GangaRao, has been studying infrastructure for 30 years.

GangaRao said infrastructure is an issue in the United States. There are 620,000 bridges in this country, some of which are facing problems. The United States will spend

$2.5 trillion over the next 10 years on infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave West Virginia a D+ grade for its infrastructure. West Virginia is one of only five states falling behind in improving infrastructure ratings, GangaRao said.

In West Virginia, 17.3 percent of bridges are deficient. This is the fifth highest rate in the nation. West Virginia has about 7,000 bridges and approximately 1,250 have strength problems and 1,400 have other problems, he said.

The State of West Virginia spends about $550 a year per car on infrastructure, GangaRao said.

GangaRao’s research at WVU involved creating and using polymer composites to fix infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, whereas convential repairs to these structures lack durability. Repairs done with polymer composites are faster, more economical and increase the service life of structures, GangaRao said.

Polymer composites are made out of two materials, usually glass, carbon or fiberglass as reinforcement and then some form of resin as a binder. The substance created from putting these materials together is called a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite, he said.

Through his research, GangaRao has created different FRP composite products. One such product is FRP composite rebar. It is made of glass and resin and is used instead of traditional steel bars. FRP composite rebar is about four times lighter and two times stronger than steel rebar, GangaRao said.

His research has also resulted in FRP composite wrapping. These wrappings can be used on a variety of structures on site. They help repair structures and strengthen them. It also reduces traffic tie-ups caused by repairs, he said.

GangaRao and his associates at WVU have built six bridges and parts of two highways using FRP composite products. They built the first bridge in the country with a FRP composite deck in McKinleyville in 1996, GangaRao said.

They have also done work in Monongalia County, the Grafton area, Huntington, East Lynn, Martinsburg and other areas. Even Marion County has seen FRP composite repairs. The Barrackville Covered Bridge was built in 1853. It was refurbished in 1999. FRP composite dowl bars were embedded in joints of the bridge. This increased the strenth of the bridge and was much cheaper than the conventional repair would have been, he said.

Using FRP composites saves at least 50 percent and could save up to 70 percent compared to conventional repairs, he said.

“We were able to do these projects at a fraction of the cost and we can save a lot of money,” GangaRao said. “More importantly, we can extend the service life (of structures) with minimal amount of user inconveniences.”

FRP composites can be used in areas other than infrastructure, GangaRao said. The FRP composite wrapping can be used to strengthen gas pipelines for higher pressures so a larger volume of natural gas can be moved, he explained.

The FRP composite wrapping can also be wrapped around railroad ties for strength and repairs. FRP composite wraps can be used for utility poles for the same reason, he said.

GangaRao said that politicians have been supportive of using FRP composites. However, the biggest barrier to getting the state government to agree to using FRP in more projects is that there is a certain inertia in the government system, he said.

“There are certain specifications that have to be in place to make this progress forward,” he said. “We did put them in place. It’s now a matter of time over the next few months to a year for it to take off.”

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