GBA’s Canal Route Bridge Repair Project Wins ACEC National Award

The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) announced that the Canal Route Bridge Repair – Phase 1 project was chosen for its Engineering Excellence Award. The national award is presented to feats of engineering that show innovative applications, advancements to the future of the industry, development considerations, complexity and the successful fulfillment of a client’s needs. The design used in GBA’s winning entry was a joint effort with the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) and Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC).

KDOT selected GBA and PEC to provide a complete field inspection and full set of rehabilitation plans for the two primary bridges on the route. Constructed in 1979, Canal Route needed repairs to ensure the structural integrity and safety of one of the state’s most critical pieces of infrastructure. GBA led the first phase of the project, which involved collecting field data on the entire superstructure of both bridges.

GBA’s team knew that gathering data along this road would be no small task. It carries an average of 92,500 vehicles a day and links to three other major freeway and highway routes. A lane closure along these heavily traveled bridges would mean significant disruptions to the traveling public and expenses for the client.

Large arial shot of highway canal route with a blue sky
Aerial view of the Canal Route bridges in Wichita, Kansas.

In order to complete this phase with the lowest impact to stakeholders, the GBA team proposed an innovative solution that would bypass traditional data collection methods, which would involve ground crews and extensive lane closures, by using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). This technology allowed GBA to use infrared (IR) thermography to evaluate the conditions of the bearings, hinge concrete, desk and joints of the bridges–all from the air with no disruption to traffic. While minor lane closures were needed during this phase, they were solely used to spot check the UAV findings and ensure that the final deliverable was as accurate as possible. By cutting down on lane closures, GBA mitigated the impacts of increased traffic, which resulted in reduced vehicle emissions and crashes, time delays and lost productivity.

“Going from traditional on-the-ground methods to collecting data from the sky is a night-and-day difference for our team,” said Jon Karst, GBA Bridge Special Projects Leader. “Working with our ARRS Group in-house allows us to come up with innovative solutions like this.”

Infared Scan of a bridge from a drone.
GBA’ Bridge and Advanced Robotics and Remote Sensing groups partnered to use IR thermography along the bridges.

GBA also collected information from below the bridge deck. The box girders were accessed via manlift to gather information on all the concrete elements inside the bridge. Exterior information was also collected at each of the bridges’ 85 hinges. While performing these assessments, GBA’s teams faced obstacles including bio-hazardous conditions and high temperatures. However, the use of UAVs lessened the impact of these conditions since the team spent less time in the field, which resulted in the project being completed on time.

The combination of the UAV imagery and field notes were delivered to KDOT in a geographic information system (GIS), which also serves as a cloud-hosted asset management tool. This final deliverable allows KDOT to access a complete digital recreation of the bridge with geotagged visualizations, information and notations. The photos taken throughout this phase can also be geospatially located within the application. The asset management tool has the flexibility to accept additions from future data collections, which allows KDOT to track the future repairs and inspections of Canal Route.

“This data goes far beyond the scope of this project,” said Karst. “KDOT will be able to revisit the information we collected, providing cost and time savings for years to come.”

GBA’s solution not only solved an existing challenge for KDOT but also streamlined future projects along Canal Route. Like many states, Kansas is looking for ways to use budgets efficiently while also maintaining its rapidly aging infrastructure. The database GBA created for KDOT can serve as a model of how data collections can be completed under budget, on time and accurately for future projects.

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