June 18, 2018
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Transport secretary to view ‘backpack’ bridge

By Jessica Bloch, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — The bridge-in-a-backpack technology developed by the University of Maine-based Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center will be on display when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visits Maine on Monday.

LaHood and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud are scheduled to visit the center’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center at 2 p.m. Monday for a look at the bridge technology, which uses collapsible carbon-fiber tubes to make a bridge the center’s engineers contend has a faster installation time and costs the same or less than a traditional bridge, but should last much longer.

“[LaHood is] very interested in the economic impact at a national level and the reduction of the carbon footprint of [traditional] bridge construction,” composites center director Habib Dagher said. “Those are important pieces for him and the Obama administration. We’re certainly very excited, and we’re looking forward to the secretary’s visit.”

LaHood’s visit to Maine was announced last Thursday.

Michaud, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is helping craft the next multi-year highway and transit authorization bill.

Before taking his current position, LaHood served in the House of Representatives and was a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Michaud spokesman Ed Gilman said last week Michaud met in April with LaHood in Washington, D.C., to discuss a visit to Maine. In an interview last month with the Bangor Daily News, Michaud said he had given LaHood a video about the bridge technology and spoke with staff members in the office of Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff.

“If you look at everything we’re talking about, when you look at new technology and how we can be more efficient and effective, … the bridge stuff they’re doing [is] definitely a good mix with what we’re trying to do in Washington,” Michaud said, speaking before an event in Brewer last month. “I think it’s a chance to highlight what they’re doing in Orono. The research and development there is more than just hired professors. Those are real opportunities for jobs.”

The bridge technology has been in development for several years. In February, composites center officials announced the launch of a spinoff company, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies LLC, or AIT, to invest approximately $20 million into continuing development and commercialization of the technology.

The “bridge-in-a-backpack” technology — so called because of its light weight and the portability of its components — uses carbon-fiber tubes that are inflated, shaped into arches and infused with resin before being moved into place. The tubes are then filled with concrete, producing arches that are harder than steel yet resistant to corrosion.

Finally, the arches are overlaid with a fiber-reinforced decking and buried under several feet of dirt and sand.

The Neal Bridge in Pittsfield, which was built in fall 2008, is the first bridge in the nation to use the technology.

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