Bridge in Hampden has first in the nation technology

The Grist Mill Bridge in Hampden is the first in the nation to use GBeam composite technology. The innovative material is inexpensive, sustainable and more durable.

HAMPDEN, Maine – When many of us passed an assignment for the school, we just got our grade back and that was it. But for Cody Sheltra and several other UMaine students past and present, their “class project” was fully on display in Hampden on Friday, although they are still waiting for a class.

“Well, I hope we passed,” said Sheltra.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center were part of the team that researched, developed and modeled new technologies that will 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 here, and that’s what we do in Brewer,” said the centre’s executive director, Dr. Habib Dagher.

The Grist Mill Bridge on Main Road is the country’s first lightweight, corrosion-resistant GBeam composite GBeam technology, developed and patented at UMaine in collaboration with AIT Bridges.

For Sheltra and the former UMaine graduate, now Design Engineer at AIT Anthony Dilba, Friday was the culmination of years of hard work.

“It’s a cool opportunity to see how the work we design is being carried out,” said Sheltra.

“It makes it easy [the work] I feel all the more worth it, “added Dilba.

This new technology is designed for a service life of over 100 years and weighs a quarter of the weight of steel girders, the infrastructure that supports a bridge.

“It takes a lot less equipment to get to a location. It requires much less equipment and takes longer to build, “added Dagher.

It took years of research, planning, collaboration, and funding to complete this project. Dagher was one of the few speakers who made remarks ahead of the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

Bruce Van Note, Commissioner for the Maine Department of Transportation, and Brit Svoboda, Chairman of the Board of ATI Bridges, also spoke on the podium to more than 50 people consisting of engineers, students and politicians.

All speakers thanked Republican Senator from Maine Susan Collins for her efforts in Congress to give this project the funds it needs to be successful.

“This shows what we can do in partnership when we all work together,” said Collins.

As Collins and her colleagues in Washington continue to negotiate infrastructure plans, she added that this type of technology, composite GBeams, will be in demand across the country.

In fact, next week ATI Bridges is sending a truck full of composite beams to a project site in Flordia. Commissioner Van Note added that similar bridge projects are continuing in Maine.

“But the public doesn’t believe it until they can see it, and they can see it, so I think it’s a turning point in that regard,” he said.

Dagher added that four times the material used for the Hampden bridge can be immediately loaded onto a truck and shipped anywhere in the country.

Another advantage of this technology, in addition to the 25 year longer service life of the bridge than bridges with steel or concrete girders, is also easier maintenance.

Dagher added the deck to a bridge every 40 to 50 years, the surface we drive over needs to be replaced. Usually you see jackhammers and construction teams on site for days.

“With this new technology we don’t have to do that anymore, so our kids and grandchildren will say thank you for just screwing this deck on [and put another one on],” he said.

As Maine and the nation seek to replace obsolete roads and bridges, this new technology developed right here in Orono could lead us into the future.