Buffalo, N.Y. -- Listen up America -- Buffalo's snow and its
four-season climate are beautiful!
That's the message that researchers at MCEER, the University at
Buffalo's Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering
Research, and Calspan, Western New York's global leader in
independent aviation and transportation testing, have for the rest
of the nation.
The two internationally renowned organizations plan to
capitalize on the region's much-maligned climate through a unique
partnership and testing program that will subject two full-scale
bridges and their advanced protective technologies to a full range
of naturally occurring environmental and climatic conditions, as
well as earthquake vibrations.
The purpose of the partnership and the studies are to combine
the talents of both organizations to meet effectively the nation's
growing needs for the intelligent renewal and improved resilience
of its infrastructure, in this case, bridges, from
natural-occurring phenomena and extreme events. In a 2009 Report
Card for America's Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil
Engineers assigned an overall grade of "D" to our nation's
infrastructure. The report also noted that "more than 26 percent,
or one in four, of the nation's bridges is either structurally
deficient or functionally obsolete."
The MCEER-Calspan partnership will leverage the
infrastructure-research skills of MCEER, a national center of
excellence dedicated to improving the disaster resilience of
engineered structures, with the testing expertise of Calspan
Corporation, internationally recognized for its rich heritage of
innovation and proven excellence in technology and science.
"This partnership puts each of our organizations into exciting
new worlds," said Andre Filiatrault, Ph.D., MCEER director and
professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering at UB.
"There is a tremendous synergy in the ability of Calspan to apply
its testing expertise to develop full-scale experimental
capabilities that enable MCEER to test large infrastructure
components, such as roads and bridges, under multiple hazards
including earthquakes and other extreme events."
Filiatrault also noted that Calspan's Ashford facility near
Springville, N.Y., provides ample acreage to conduct such
full-scale tests, as well as a wide array of naturally occurring
weather conditions to expose infrastructure test specimens to the
"Structural engineers traditionally have sought solutions to
infrastructure problems in the confines of a laboratory," he added.
"Calspan's Ashford Facility provides an opportunity to test new
technologies and infrastructure remedies in the great outdoors,
where they will have to perform over time and in varying climatic
and other conditions."
Thomas Pleban, executive vice president of Calspan, said that
the new relationship not only has the potential to enhance
Calspan's current test capabilities, but will also benefit Western
New York as a whole, by making it the world's premier destination
for full-scale infrastructure testing.
"Calspan is enthused about this new partnership, because it
gives us the opportunity to work with world-renowned MCEER, and
provides Calspan the opportunity to enlist UB for synergistic
engineering assistance as Calspan broadens its business base, both
in the U.S. and internationally," said Pleban.
Filiatrault said that the aging infrastructure in the U.S. is
reaching a critical point.
"As infrastructure approaches the end of its lifespan, it
becomes increasingly susceptible to tremendous damage, especially
during extreme events," he said. "Our nation needs to renew its
infrastructure, but how shall we go about it? Do we simply replace
the old with the new, or do we rebuild it more intelligently so
that it is designed and built to withstand multiple hazards
throughout its lifetime? The MCEER-Calspan partnership will focus
on finding ways to protect our growing population and way of life
by renewing and preserving our infrastructure through the
development and validation of the most innovative and
cost-effective methods available."
The initial focus of the partnership is the development of a
full-scale bridge test at Calspan's 700-acre Ashford facility. The
Ashford facility, about 35 miles south of Buffalo, will enable
MCEER researchers to subject two adjacent single lane bridges
equipped with state-of-the-art seismic isolation technologies, to
harsh, real-world conditions -- and earthquake vibrations.
Construction of the 72-foot- long bridges will begin this fall,
with a five-year test program scheduled to begin on July 1, 2010.
Eleven concrete bridge girders donated by Hubbell Concrete of
Utica, N.Y., already have been transported to the Ashford site.
Testing will chronicle the performance of seismic isolation
technology over time and over a wide spectrum of temperatures and
other environmental conditions. Seismic isolation decouples a
structure from its foundation, effectively isolating it from
damaging ground vibrations. The initial test program will examine
the change in properties of elastomeric or rubber isolation
bearings in a wide range of temperature settings. Bearings are
being provided by Dynamic Isolation Systems, Inc., a world leader
in the seismic isolation of bridges and buildings, with nearly 300
projects to its credit around the world.
The project is supported by funding from New York State and
Michael Constantinou, professor of civil, structural and
environmental engineering at UB, acknowledged that "while seismic
isolation technology is widely accepted in the civil engineering
field, expanded understanding and continued development can only
help to further its use -- and the resilience of structures that it
According to George C. Lee, principal investigator for the
project and leader of MCEER's 17-year-old Federal Highway
Administration-funded research program, studies show that the U.S.
presently has some 590,000 highway bridges -- most built during the
1950s and '60s -- due to reach their 75-year design lifespan within
the next two decades. "This is certainly true for bridges in New
York State," Lee added. "Aging bridges will have to be replaced or
retrofitted or they could collapse unexpectedly, as has happened in
recent years for various reasons."
On August 1, 2007, the rush-hour collapse of the I-35W bridge
over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, plunged
dozens of cars and their occupants into the river, killing 13
people and injuring another 145. The bridge was one of Minnesota's
busiest, believed to carry 140,000 vehicles per day. In Washington
County, Pennsylvania, a concrete bridge similar to the ones MCEER
researchers will test, collapsed onto Interstate 70 in December of
"This is indeed a problem," said Harvey Stenger, dean of UB's
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "But this opportunity
with Calspan enables engineering researchers at MCEER and UB's
department of civil, structural and environmental engineering to
once more push back the boundaries of discovery and develop
solutions to address this urgent need and renew, preserve and
protect our nation's bridge infrastructure from a variety of
hazards and extreme real-world conditions." Stenger added that he
is excited about the promise of this new university-industry
partnership with Calspan.
The project will also be a strong catalyst for innovative
educational initiatives in UB's Department of Civil, Structural and
Environmental Engineering. "In addition to adding to UB's legacy in
bridge and highway engineering research, this project provides
unique, hands-on learning opportunities for students enrolled in
transportation engineering and the new Master of Engineering (M.
Eng.) program with a concentration in bridge engineering at UB,"
said A. Scott Weber, chair of the school's department of civil,
structural and environmental engineering. "The full-scale,
real-world experience that students will gain, coupled with
opportunities to work alongside industry in this project, will best
prepare them to meet our nation's growing needs for engineers
highly skilled in infrastructure renewal," he added.
UB Provost Satish K. Tripathi said that the agreement between
MCEER and Calspan intensifies the work of the UB 2020 strategic
strength in extreme events, in which MCEER has played a pivotal
"Tackling the issue of how to protect and improve the nation's
aging infrastructure in the face of extreme events, required MCEER
to embrace a bold, new vision," he said. "Our MCEER researchers
knew that in order to adequately address such big-picture issues,
they would need resources that matched the size of the problem.
They went looking for a way to make it happen and that's when they
The new full-scale bridge testing capabilities will enable MCEER
to expand its discovery of knowledge, tools and technologies to
improve and preserve the resilience of the nation's infrastructure
against a variety of hazards. "This couldn't have been possible
without Calspan's collaborative spirit and unique capabilities,"
said Filiatrault. "We look forward to what's to come."
Founded in 1986, MCEER, the Multidisciplinary Center for
Earthquake Engineering Research, headquartered at the University at
Buffalo, is a national center of excellence in advanced technology
applications dedicated to reducing losses from earthquake and other
hazards nationwide. One of three such centers in the nation
established by the National Science Foundation, MCEER has been
funded principally over the past two decades, with more than $67
million from NSF; more than $47 million from the State of New York
and more than $34 million from the Federal Highway Administration.
Additional support comes from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, other state governments, academic institutions, foreign
governments and private industry.
Conceived in 1940, Calspan Corporation was originally founded in
1943 as part of the Research Laboratory of Curtis-Wright Division
at Buffalo, N.Y. Internationally recognized for proven excellence
in technology and science, the company has built its reputation on
a rich heritage of innovation. Calspan's corporate structure
includes six operating groups, five in Buffalo: flight research,
transonic wind tunnel, transportation research, crash data
research, and systems integration and design; and one,
Bicycleworks, located in Mojave CA. The company's main complex is
located at 4455 Genesee St. in Cheektowaga, N.Y. Calspan has 245
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.