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August 9, 2018

UMaine to lead regional R&D effort for better roads and bridges

Courtesy / Office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins
Courtesy / Office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to students and staff at the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center during Wednesday's press conference highlighting a $14.2 million five-year grant to fund a University Transportation Center on the college campus in Orono.

About UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center

The University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center is a world-leading, interdisciplinary center for research, education, and economic development encompassing material sciences, manufacturing, and engineering of composites and structures. The center includes a testing laboratory with more than 150 full and part time personnel.

The University of Maine is establishing a new federally funded University Transportation Center on the Orono campus that will research and develop new technologies to extend the life of bridges, roads and rails throughout the country.

Funded by a $14.2 million five-year grant, the UTC will be based at UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, helped to secure the grant in her role as chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee by sending a letter last September to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting UMaine's proposal.

The UMaine-led coalition's project is titled "Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center (TIDC): Extending the Life of Our Transportation Assets." The UMaine-led coalition includes the University of Rhode Island, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Vermont, and Western New England University.

Additional partners include representatives from state DOTs and the American Society of Civil Engineers Transportation and Development Institute.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called Collins in June to notify her that UMaine's project was the winning proposal in a highly competitive process, making it the first time UMaine has been chosen to receive a grant to host the UTC, which had been held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1992.

With the first installment of the five-year funding in hand, UMaine will lead a coalition of six New England universities in developing longer-lasting road and bridge materials and technologies.

"The new University Transportation Center is a game-changer for UMaine and its students," said Habib Dagher, executive director of UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center, who was one of the speakers at Wednesday's press conference in Orono that included Collins, Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy and employees and business partners of the center. "It will allow us to work with state DOTs and university colleagues across New England to extend the life of bridges and roads, and develop new materials and technologies to build more durable bridges."

'Testing to failure'

Immediately following the press conference, an innovative, rapidly deployable bridge system designed at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center was tested to failure.

The force required to break the structure far exceeded current safety design standards, ultimately reaching the weight equivalent of more than 120 cars stacked on top of one another at the center of the bridge.

The lightweight bridge system uses composite material girders and precast concrete deck panels, can be built in as little as 72 hours and is designed to last 100 years with little to no maintenance, according to a news release from Collins' office.

"The '72-Hour Bridge' that we just successfully tested today is an example of the new technologies that we plan to develop and deploy," Dagher said in the release.

Collins characterized the five-year $14.2 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant as "a strong vote of confidence in the outstanding accomplishments in advanced materials research here at Orono."

"The Advanced Structures and Composites Center is developing cutting-edge research, providing an outstanding education for the next generation of engineers and spurring economic growth for our state and new jobs for our people," Collins said. "Maine, New England and our nation need the innovative technologies and techniques this UTC will develop that will accelerate lasting transportation improvements, reduce costs, and keep our people and our economy on the move."

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