ORONO, Maine — The man behind the Bridge-in-a-Backpack and the University of Maine’s push to develop a floating ocean wind turbine farm will be recognized by the White House next week as a “Transportation Champion of Change.”
Habib Dagher, founding director of UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, will be honored among 11 of the nation’s top transportation innovators during a ceremony on Oct. 13 in Washington, D.C. The award, presented by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, recognizes innovators for their advancements toward the future of U.S. transportation and infrastructure.
“I’m really, really humbled,” Dagher said during an interview Friday. “[The award] really belongs to the entire center, to the entire team.”
Dagher’s team began work on the Bridge-in-a-Backpack more than a decade ago. The technology uses inflatable arch structures that can be transported to a site in bags resembling those used for hockey equipment, inflated on site and infused with resin, forming a lightweight hollow arch. That arch is filled with concrete on site and used to support the rest of the bridge. This construction method doesn’t require as much heavy equipment, uses fewer people and takes significantly less time than a traditional bridge construction project.
The bridges are projected to last a century, according to the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
With the nation’s aging bridge infrastructure in dire need of overhauls, the Bridge-in-a-Backpack could serve as a fast, less costly, long-lasting alternative to replace short- and medium-span bridges that have outlived their usefulness.
UMaine licensed the Bridge-in-a-Backpack technology to a private startup company, Advanced Infrastructure Technologies, which designs, markets and builds the bridges. So far, there are 18 bridges in the United States, mostly in the Northeast. A few others have been built elsewhere, including one in Trinidad.
“This award honors over a decade of groundbreaking research by Habib and the UMaine team, and highlights the importance of our continued partnership in advancing the nation’s transportation industry,” said AIT Chairman and CEO Brit Svoboda.
Dagher is included on 24 patents total, with eight more pending.
U.S. Sens. Collins and King congratulated Dagher on the recognition in a joint statement issued Friday.
“Dr. Dagher has long been an innovative force in Maine, and we are delighted that his work is being recognized so prominently by the White House,” the senators said. “The University of Maine continues to prove that it is a first-class research institution, and Dagher and his team at the Composites Center are exemplary of that excellence.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, university and industry officials also commending Dagher and his team for their efforts.
“A bright future comes with a vision, a plan and a strategy to take ideas forward and make them a reality,” said Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of Cianbro. “Dr. Dagher has proven with his accomplishments that Maine’s vibrant future begins by believing that we are fully capable of creating it.”
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