How should Nashua bridge the gap, so to speak, between function and finesse?
Resident Geoff Daly has an idea, which he presented about 20 minutes into the Jan. 3 joint Board of Aldermen/Public Works public session last week. The meeting was called to discuss the aesthetics of the three bridges to be built during the Broad Street Parkway project.
Daly was the first member of the public to speak following the presentation by city project manager John Vancor, and referenced a proposal he's previously submitted to the city, showing how the use of composite material could save taxpayers around 30 percent on the project.
He believes use of composite bridge material would work well to construct at the two smaller neighborhood bridges of the three spans needed to complete the $82 million road project.
Following Thursday's public meeting, Daly said he'd like to see the city follow Maine's lead by using HCB – hybrid-composite beams – specifically, as used in a comparable project, the Neal Bridge, in Pittsfield, Maine.
HCB was invented by structural engineer John Hillman, who developed the process while affiliated with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center.
Since then, Hillman has received several patents and awards for HCB, and is founder and CEO of HC Bridge Company, based in Illinois.
"I think we've got to look at the numbers," said Daly, following Thursday's meeting.
"All the aldermen are looking at the ongoing cost of maintenance of these bridges, and composite systems are corrosion resistant in salt. The cost of maintenance is greatly diminished, and we can get the same aesthetics everyone's looking for in this type of construction – it will go up quicker, and the majority of beams can be carried in place rather than utilizing a heavy-duty crane," said Daly, a mechanical engineer by vocation.
Mayor Donnalee Lozeau asked Daly to send more information to the city about the composite bridges, for consideration.
Whether this is a feasible option for Nashua remains to be seen.
One good question to ask is how does Maine feel about its use of this innovative bridge building material, in hindsight?
When contacted Friday, Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said their chief engineer is beyond "sold" on the promise of HCB technology, past, present and future.
"The composite beams are made essentially of glass fiber, foam and steel, and are better able to resist corrosion. They're built to last 100 years," Talbot said.
"Every state has aging bridges, and are constantly maintaining and replacing them. We have truss-style bridges from the 1930s that need to be replaced, and it's a lot more cost-effective to replace them than pay for upkeep. So by turning an eye to the future, by using this technology, we're looking at durability, sustainability and lifespan," Talbot said. "It all goes back to the bottom line, and with HBC we're in a much better position for the taxpayer – and in terms of safety, there's no worry about corrosion or collapse."
Talbot said Nashua could put itself on the map by becoming the first New Hampshire municipality to build a bridge from HCB.
"It would definitely put Nashua on the map, in terms of innovation. But if these are neighborhood bridges, you could certainly add aesthetics to further enhance the bridge profile," Talbot said. "We weren't big on lighting or bike lanes because of the location of our bridges, but by adding such things to a composite bridge, you've just gone to the next level, and Nashua could have a shining example of how this technology can be used."
Daly said this technology, while relatively new, is not untested, citing the first such bridge constructed with HCB technology in Colorado, built in such a way that it's possible to compare wear and tear on the HCB components versus the concrete components.
The HCB components are winning, says Daly.
Daly also said Hillman has submitted a plan to rebuild the Ocean City, NJ, Boardwalk, devastated by Hurricane Sandy, using HCB technology [you can see a pdf of that plan attached below]. As the city considers its options, this plan is one that has caught the attention of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Daly said.
It's a 21st century innovation being touted as a way of building better bridges that last longer with lower maintenance and are less expensive to install initially.
"I'd just like the city to take a seriously look at it," Daly said.
Take a few minutes to look over the various documents and YouTube videos uploaded with this story, and see what you think. Then let us know in the comments field below.
If you missed the Jan. 3, 2013 joint Board of Aldermen/Public Works meeting, you can view it online here courtesy of CTV.
Click here for a link to FAQs about Hybrid-Composite Beams.
About Maine's largest HCB bridge project, the Knickerbocker Bridge:
The Knickerbocker Bridge, the nation’s first multi-span hybrid composite beam bridge in Boothbay Harbor, was built by Maine contractors Wyman & Simpson under contract with MaineDOT.
Contract Amount: $3.84 million
Completed: Nov. 2012
Wyman & Simpson constructed the world's first multi-span hybrid composite beam bridge over the Back River in Boothbay, Maine. Bridge piers were built on site and 62 HCB beams – made of glass fiber, foam and steel – were trucked in from a manufacturing facility in Brunswick, Maine – and placed by W&S crews. Project included construction of pipe pile supported piers, rock anchor installation, composite beam erection, concrete bridge deck, bridge supported power, telephone, cable and town owned water main, two precast concrete retaining walls, 2,100 feet of roadway, boat ramp and parking lot construction. The project was completed under budget and ahead of schedule. It was dedicated in early 2011. The bridge – and two other composite bridges built by Wyman & Simpson – were featured in Maine Trails magazine [see pdf of article uploaded with this story below.]