• Worker on road installing sensors
  • The research from projects such as this MDOT work is also used to improve the curriculum, another win of the applied plus theoretical approach to learning found at WMU. “We use testing methods, test data and project deliverables to improve our curriculum, providing not only information and knowledge for our students but helping them gain wisdom to address real-world problem,” says Attanayake.

  • Students in structural durability lab

    Seven graduate students and seven undergraduate students worked with Attanayake on the MDOT project. The result of their research is a process that reduces construction time for some road projects.

Professor’s research team helping MDOT reduce construction timeline

A sure sign of spring is road construction. While some may dread the interruptions to their daily commute, researchers at Western Michigan University are helping to pave the way for ensuring the durability of Michigan bridge surfaces, minimizing disruptions and improving construction timelines.

Dr. Upul Attanayake

Dr. Upul Attanayake, professor of civil and construction engineering and director of WMU’s Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Center of Excellence for Structural Durability, led a team from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences that worked to determine the minimum timeline for applying epoxy overlays and protective sealers to new concrete on the surface of Michigan bridges. Attanayake’s team showed the timeline requires just 21 days, not the 28 days required by policy.

“This process—applying the overlays at day 21 of curing—offers significant savings from project and road user costs without compromising concrete durability and overlay/healer sealer performance,” says Attanayake.

Attanayake’s team set out to test the performance of healer sealers at 21 days by evaluating the effectiveness of sealed cracks in preventing chloride ingress—one of the leading causes of deterioration of concrete road surfaces. The bond of the epoxy overlays and healer sealers on standard bridge deck joint repair and Grade DM concrete mix was assessed primarily by conducting a direct pull-off bond strength. The overlay performance was evaluated under standard laboratory conditions, simulated summer exposure conditions, wet and dry conditions, and the outdoor conditions representing southwest Michigan exposure; outdoor conditions were evaluated during fall, winter and summer.

“We supported our findings by collecting overlay bond strength data over patches and repairs with new concrete on two in-service bridge decks, and healer sealer depth of penetration and bonding of concrete in an in-service bridge deck with extensive cracking,” says Attanayake. “Basically, all that is left is to get the revised policy approved and implemented by MDOT to allow contractors to finish their work early to minimize traffic disruption on our roads.”

The study was completed in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Tourney Consulting Group. MDOT funded the research.The project included an extensive laboratory and field testing and provided research opportunities for 14 graduate and undergraduate students.