13 Jul Technical Experts, Policymakers, Local Industry Meet July 21 to Explore R.I.’s Role as Innovator Using Composites for Transportation Infrastructure
July 14, 2016 — In 2010 Patricia Steere established Steere Engineering with a staff of one. Only five and a half years later, this Warwick civil engineering firm focused on bridge, traffic and highway structures has a staff of twenty-three.
The fast growth in demand for Steere Engineering’s services is just one sign of an urgent national problem. The aging of the U.S. Interstate system, built largely in the 1950s and ‘60s, combined with low levels of infrastructure spending have created a perfect storm: our bridges and highways are in need of a lot of TLC.
Rhode Island may be the state with the biggest need (2014 Federal Highway Administration data ranks R.I. last among all states due to its high percentage of structurally deficient bridges), but it may also be a home to solutions.
On July 21, a first-time “Composites in Transportation Infrastructure: Building for the Future” workshop will be held in Bristol to explore how Rhode Island’s composites expertise could complement a widespread need to improve our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
“Rhode Island’s composites industry began in our tradition of world-class boat building, but is growing to address the need for light, durable materials in aerospace, defense and wind energy,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “We’re bringing together engineers, builders, and local companies to explore ways Rhode Island can capitalize on the composites industry’s next frontier: upgrading America’s infrastructure for the twenty-first century economy.”
The event, hosted by the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island and Polaris MEP, in conjunction with Senator Whitehouse and the American Composites Manufacturers Association, will take place at Roger Williams University.
The event will pool policy makers, national technical experts, Department of Transportation engineers, and members of the local composites industry for presentations and a facilitated discussion on what next steps need to be taken. Rhode Island civil engineers and individuals who work in composites are encouraged to attend this free event.
Speakers will include Senator Whitehouse; Governor Gina M. Raimondo; Anthony Rotondo, Senior Bridge Engineer representing U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration; Director of R.I. Department of Transportation Peter Alviti, Jr.; Wendy Mackie of the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island; and a slate of technical experts from throughout the U.S.
Composites are regularly used in aerospace, national defense, the marine trades and other industries but are not yet seen as a common alternative to the concrete and steel used in civil engineering. But that can change.
Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites have been used in transportation projects to repair and strengthen concrete, to strengthen metal, for environmental protection of caps and columns, and to improve bridge aerodynamics. At the workshop, a panel of technical experts—including John Busel of the American Composites Manufacturers Association—will overview the advantages and applications of these materials for upgrading, strengthening and rehabilitating civil engineering structures.
Although some composites applications are already included in the AASHTO guidelines (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials), Bristol business owner Rich O’Meara of Core Composites, who is also a member of the Composites Alliance of Rhode Island Steering Committee, knows composites and the expertise resident in the state’s composites industry could play a much larger role in repairing and improving our infrastructure.
Building the awareness amongst DOT engineers about composite materials’ durability, longevity and low corrosion in harsh salt water environments like Rhode Island’s can, O’Meara believes, only give birth to more testing and wider acceptance.
From where Patricia Steere sits, the July 21 workshop will fulfill this critical step of strengthening the conversation between engineers who adhere to established design guidelines to ensure public safety and composites experts and manufacturers with a broad understanding of composites and their vast capabilities.
“We need people who can think outside the box,” said Steere. “Rhode Island could become a center of new technology—and others could learn from our state how to successfully use composites in transportation to produce long-lasting structures.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“Composites in Transportation Infrastructure: Building for the Future” takes place on July 21 at Roger Williams University School of Law (Bristol, R.I). The event is free but registration is required. Follow these links for the agenda, details on technical presentations, and event registration.
Rhode Island’s composites sector represents all aspects of the industry–from manufacturers to product weavers, mold builders, suppliers, and education & training providers. The Composites Alliance of Rhode Island was formed to grow this sector and ensure purchasers of composites technology around the world know about the strong capabilities resident in the state. The Alliance also provides a nexus where companies can share expertise and ideas, and coordinate their workforce-development efforts to ensure a skilled labor pool.