ASEL director earns $336K grant to improve bridge maintenance

Published: Sep 18, 2023 3:00 PM

By Dustin Duncan

Motorists prefer bridges to be durable, construction-free and to allow them to safely travel over water or another road.

Matthew Yarnold, director of the Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory (ASEL) and an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering, is working to improve the long-term functionality of bridges in Alabama by focusing on how to improve deck slabs that connect bridge decks without using traditional deck joints.

Yarnold is the primary investigator, with Anton Schindler, director of the Highway Research Center and Mountain Spirit Professor of civil and environmental engineering, serving as the co-PI. The project, “Development of Continuous Deck Slab Details for Alabama Bridges,” is funded by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) with a total budget of $336,600.

Researchers at ASEL will assess an existing detail from ALDOT and seek opportunities for enhancement, with the goal of improving bridge performance throughout Alabama. If Yarnold's team succeeds and ALDOT adopts their recommendations, these improvements are likely to be implemented in most of the future bridges constructed by ALDOT.

Yarnold said that the new detail could be used multiple times, depending on the number of spans on a bridge, and when multiplying that number by the total number of new bridges, it highlights the significant potential impact.

“This is a small detail that can have a high impact throughout Alabama,” Yarnold said.

The first task is to inspect existing deck slabs in Alabama for any signs of cracking, water leaks or deterioration. Afterward, the team will install sensors on these slabs to measure stress caused by traffic and climate patterns.

The biggest piece for the ASEL team is building three full-scale girders and slabs — basically a section of a bridge — and testing the new detail in the lab.

“From there, we’ll develop a new detail that we recommend for the state to hopefully adopt and use to build bridges in the future,” Yarnold said.

Yarnold emphasized that researching these details for future bridges isn't a matter of life or death. Bridges are not in immediate danger of collapsing from the existing detail, but this grant has the potential to significantly extend their lifespan and reduce the frequency of construction crews on-site.

“The biggest point here is that we are trying to improve our infrastructure and reduce maintenance on bridges,” Yarnold said. 

Opened in 2021, ASEL is a state-of-the-art 42,000-square-foot facility that includes a high bay laboratory with a strong wall and strong floor specially engineered to handle extreme structural testing loads.


Media Contact: Dustin Duncan ,,
Man stands next to concrete with white hard hat

Matthew Yarnold

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