BUFFALO, N.Y. – Engineers design bridges to withstand
earthquakes, but what about hurricanes, floods and other
The answer is often no.
Fortunately, that’s changing. The University at
Buffalo’s newly launched Institute for Bridge Engineering is
developing plans for bridges that are resistant to natural and
manmade hazards. It’s also examining ways to build safer,
more cost-effective bridges using advanced materials, smart
technology and other devices, as well as training the next
generation of bridge engineers.
“Many of our nation’s bridges and related highway
infrastructure are deteriorating and in need of expensive and
time-consuming repairs,” said Liesl Folks, PhD, dean of
UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The
Institute of Bridge Engineering will help reverse that trend by
conducting innovative research in structures, geotechnics and
materials. In turn, this will enable transportation departments to
make our nation’s bridges safer. Also, our students will
benefit from learning from some of the nation’s best civil
engineers at UB, as well as experts who are actively engaged in the
The average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is 42
years, and one in nine of these bridges are “structurally
deficient,” according to the American Society of Civil
Engineers’ 2013 report card on American infrastructure. The
Federal Highway Administration says the nation needs to invest
$20.5 billion annually to fix them by 2028. The nation spends about
$12.5 billion each year.
“Bridges are a critical part of the infrastructure of
almost every major city,” said George C. Lee, PhD, SUNY
Distinguished Professor in UB’s Department of Civil,
Structural and Environmental Engineering. “UB recognizes this
problem, which is why the university is committed to research that
will improve the durability, safety and efficiency of new and
Lee, an internationally renowned earthquake engineer, will serve
as the institute’s director. He served as director of MCEER,
UB’s earthquake engineering and extreme events research
center, from 1992-2003, and he received the 2006 Presidential Award
for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
UB’s civil engineering program has long been recognized as
one of the nation’s finest. Its graduate program ranking in
the U.S. News and World Report climbed to No. 24 this year, up from
No. 46 in 2004.
Several department faculty members, including Lee, have written
papers and books that contributed to design codes used throughout
the nation to build bridges. Utilizing their expertise, as well as
several recently hired young researchers, UB is poised to lead the
way designing the next generation of bridges.
Their research will include, but not be limited to, examining
rustproof composite materials that could someday replace steel,
ultra high performance concrete (it’s seven times stronger
than what’s used today), as well as embedded sensors that can
assess the safety of bridges and alert drivers about which routes
are most congested.
The bridge institute is part of UB’s “E Fund”
initiative, which supports programs that will have a high impact
both inside and outside the university. The “E” stands
for excellence. The fund is supported by NYSUNY 2020, the higher
education bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Through the E Fund, UB has set aside $3.7 million over the next
three years for the institute. The university will use the money to
hire four full-time civil engineering professors (two have already
been hired) and an assistant director, as well as support PhD and
graduate students. By 2015, the university expects that 50 students
will be studying within the institute.
UB will work with federal agencies, such as the Federal Highway
Administration, the Research and Innovative Technology
Administration and the National Cooperative Highway Research
Program, as well as industry, to seek partnerships that will fund
research at the institute.