HAMPDEN, Maine — When many of us passed in an assignment for school, we just got the grade back and that was that. But for Cody Sheltra and several other UMaine students past and present, their 'class project' was on full display Friday in Hampden, although they're still waiting on a grade.
“Well, I hope we passed," Sheltra said.
Undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center were one piece of the team that researched, developed, and modeled new technology that will help pave the way into the future of transportation infrastructure.
“We don’t have steel, we don’t have steel mills, but we can make composites right here and that’s what we’re doing in Brewer," executive director of the Center Dr. Habib Dagher said.
The Grist Mill Bridge on Main Road is the first in the nation tub-girder lightweight, corrosion-resistant composite GBeam technology, designed and patented at UMaine in collaboration with AIT Bridges.
For Sheltra and former UMaine graduate student now Design Engineer at AIT Anthony Dilba, Friday was a culmination of years of hard work.
"It’s a cool opportunity to see work we actually designed be implemented," Sheltra said.
“It just makes [the work] feel all the more worth it," Dilba added.
This new technology is designed to last over 100 years and weighs one-quarter the weight of steel girders, the piece of infrastructure that supports a bridge.
“It takes a lot less equipment to get it to a site. It takes a lot less equipment to build it, and it lasts longer," Dagher added.
It took years of research, planning, collaborating, and funding to finalize this project. Dagher was one of the few speakers who made remarks prior to Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note and ATI Bridges executive chair Brit Svoboda also spoke at the podium to a crowd of more than 50 people made up of engineers, students, and politicians.
All the speakers thanked Maine's Republican Senator Susan Collins for her efforts in Congress to give this project the funding it needed to succeed.
“This shows what we can do in partnership when we all work together," Collins said.
As Collins and her colleagues in Washington continue to negotiate over infrastructure plans, she added this type of technology, composite GBeams, will be in demand all over the country.
In fact, ATI Bridges is sending a tractor-trailer full of the composite girders next week to a project site in Flordia. Commissioner Van Note added similar bridge projects will continue in Maine.
“But the public doesn’t believe it until they can see it, and they can see it, so I do believe it’s a turning point in that regard," he said.
Dagher added that four times the material used for the bridge in Hampden can be loaded on a truck at once and sent anywhere in the country.
Another benefit of this technology, besides the bridge durability lasting 25 years longer than bridges that use steel or concrete girders, maintenance would also be easier.
Dagher added every 40 to 50 years the deck of a bridge, the surface we drive over, needs to be replaced. Normally, that's when you'd see jackhammers and construction crews on-site for days.
“With this new technology, we don’t have to do that anymore so our children and grandchildren will say thank you we’re just going to unbolt this deck [and put another one on]," he said.
As Maine and the nation looks to replace outdated roads and bridges, this new technology, developed right here in Orono, could lead us into the future.