Researchers testing rural Indiana bridges

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BOONE COUNTY, Ind. – Indiana is called the “Crossroads of America” but it’s no secret many roads across the state are in need of a face lift.

Now, researchers at Purdue University are trying a different type of technology to help give communities a new tool to make sure bridges are safe.

The weight load test, a sort of EKG for bridges, can help tell a county about just how much weight a bridge can handle.

“It’s not just the agriculture but it’s every person in every county of the state affected by these,” Boone County Commissioner and farmer Donnie Lawson said.

Lawson said there are bridges in the area he can’t cross.

“It takes you more time and time is money,” he said.

Boone County Bridge 86 has a weight load of 12 tons. Wednesday, researchers from the Local Technical Assistance Program at Purdue University gave it a stress test. The study was funded by the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Marketing Council.

“To help implement, demonstrate if you will, this technology that will help allow bridges to stay open to heavier trucks for longer,” research manager Patrick Conner said.

Sensors placed under the bridge sent data back to a computer as a truck drove across it to give a little more insight. Researchers said the technology could be one counties could rely on to decide which bridges are really in need of repair.

“At the end of the day we think that this is an effective way for counties that have limited resources to really identify the key components of the infrastructure that need investment,” Edward Ebert, with ISA and ICMC, said.

An IU Public Policy Institute Study estimates the cost to fix the state’s rural roads, structurally deficient bridges and functionally obsolete bridges at nearly $6.4 billion over 20 years.

“The proof is in the pudding as they say to be able to see what the results come back and see if we can make any adjustments to the load rating on this bridge,” Boone County engineer Craig Parks said.

The results could take a few weeks to come back.

Researchers said it’s not just about farmers, though. The impact of the weight load on a bridge can also affect emergency vehicles.

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