First Street overpass gets first monitoring device

Chelle Delaney

An overpass in Tucumcari is the sole site of a pilot project that could change the future of how overpasses and bridges are monitored for safety, said a University of New Mexico civil engineer.

For almost two years a UNM research team worked to refine the monitoring system installed June 24 on the overpass at south First Street and Interstate 40, said civil engineer and team leader Mahmoud Reda Taha, who is an associate professor and regents’ lecturer in the Department of Engineering at UNM.

“It took a lot of people working together,” Taha said. “It took 18 months for the research team to get everything right.”

The research team includes student candidates working on their masters and doctorates and several companies assisting with the project.
“It’s working great,” Taha said.

The $120,000 project was funded by the Federal Highway Administration through the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

The prototype, with 32 sensors, was embedded in the roadway of the I-40 overpass, said James Ortiz, engineering coordinator with the NMDOT’s District IV office in Las Vegas.

The UNM research team will collect the data and provide the information to the NMDOT, Ortiz said.

The system’s wireless networks allow the NMDOT research bureau office in Albuquerque or chief structural engineering staff in Santa Fe to log onto the Internet and check how the bridge is doing, Taha said.

“The bridge is in excellent shape but the heavy traffic on I-40 necessitates monitoring the structural behavior of some critical bridges to ensure safety,” Taha said.

Passersby may notice a blue solar panel on the south side of the overpass. The panel powers the monitoring system’s sensors, wireless communications and a computer that informs the research group about the safety of the overpass, Taha said.

“We choose solar as a green-sustainable option so the monitoring system does not put a burden on the power demand on the city of Tucumcari,” Taha said.

The sensors measure the level of vibration on the bridge and other aspects of the bridge’s construction, he said.

The I-40 overpass at south First Street was built in the early 1970s. However, it has been strengthened for high-load trucks and the bridge is performing very well, Taha said.

Taha said he is working with NMDOT in hopes of securing additional funding to put the monitoring systems on other bridges in the state.