$3.7 million bridge engineering institute launched

With repair costs soaring for aging bridges, the institute will develop cost-effective solutions while training tomorrow’s engineers

Release Date: December 18, 2013 This content is archived.

SUNY Distinguished Professor George Lee.

SUNY Distinguished Professor George C. Lee will lead UB’s new Institute of Bridge Engineering

“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 institute. ”
Liesl Folks, dean, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Engineers design bridges to withstand earthquakes, but what about hurricanes, floods and other hazards?

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 institute.”

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 existing bridges.”

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 Mentoring.

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.

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