Reliability-based condition assessment of existing highway bridges
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Condition assessment and safety verification of existing bridges and decisions as to whether bridge posting is required are addressed through analysis, load testing, or a combination of methods. Bridge rating through structural analysis is by far the most common procedure for rating existing bridges. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Manual for Bridge Evaluation (MBE), First Edition permits bridge capacity ratings to be determined through allowable stress rating (ASR), load factor rating (LFR) or load and resistance factor rating (LRFR); the latter method is keyed to the AASHTO LRFD Bridge Design Specifications, which is reliability-based and has been required for the design of new bridges built with federal findings since October, 2007. A survey of current bridge rating practices in the United States has revealed that these three methods may lead to different ratings and posting limits for the same bridge, a situation that carries serious implications with regard to the safety of the public and the economic well-being of communities that may be affected by bridge postings or closures. To address this issue, a research program has been conducted with the overall objective of providing recommendations for improving the process by which the condition of existing bridge structures is assessed. This research required a coordinated program of load testing and finite element analysis of selected bridges in the State of Georgia to gain perspectives on the behavior of older bridges under various load conditions. Structural system reliability assessments of these bridges were conducted and bridge fragilities were developed for purposes of comparison with component reliability benchmarks for new bridges. A reliability-based bridge rating framework was developed, along with a series of recommended improvements to the current bridge rating methods, which facilitate the incorporation of various in situ conditions of existing bridges into the bridge rating process at both component and system levels. This framework permits bridge ratings to be conducted at three levels of increasing complexity to achieve the performance objectives, expressed in the terms of reliability, that are embedded in the LRFR option of the AASHTO Manual of Bridge Evaluation. This research was sponsored by the Georgia Department of Transportation, and has led to a set of Recommended Guidelines for Condition Assessment and Evaluation of Existing Bridges in Georgia.