The U.S. Department of Transportation is advancing the FIU Bridge Engineering Program’s efforts to make the country’s aging bridges safer.

FIU will receive $1.5 million per year, for five years, for its Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center (ABC-UTC). A combined match from the state and private sector will bring the award to more than $10 million.

The money will help address one of the nation’s major transportation challenges – dilapidated bridges in dire need of repair. This is the second grant awarded to FIU’s ABC-UTC, which was first funded by USDOT in 2013. The ABC-UTC works closely with the Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to advance accelerated bridge design and construction, through research, workforce development and technology transfer.

More than 200 proposals were submitted to the USDOT, and only 20 institutions were selected for funding and designation as a Tier 1 University Transportation Center. FIU will serve as the lead institution, with Iowa State University, University of Nevada, Reno, University of Oklahoma, and University of Washington, serving as partner universities.

“We are committed to finding a solution to our country’s aging infrastructure and traffic gridlock,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “As the only organization in the country focused on accelerated bridge construction research, we’re excited that FIU is once again at the forefront of pioneering research that will positively impact the future of transportation. We are grateful for the vision and support of our South Florida congressional delegation, led by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, whose efforts helped secure this grant.”

Most of the country’s existing roadways were built more than 50 years ago and most bridges were designed for a 50-year lifespan. The nation’s infrastructure shows signs of increasing deterioration and roadways were designed to carry much less traffic than the current levels of service, said Atorod Azizinamini, one of the world’s leading bridge engineers, and director of FIU’s ABC-UTC. The discrepancy between demand and capacity is putting even more stress on the nation’s bridges.

Azizinamini was recently recognized by the White House and the Department of Transportation as a Transportation Champion of Change and will gather with Transportation leaders on Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“With accelerated bridge construction, we are able to replace or retrofit bridges without affecting traffic, while providing safety for motorists and workers who are on site,” said Azizinamini, who is also chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The result is more durable bridges.”

The ABC-UTC focuses on five research categories, among them developing the tools to allow bridge owners to make better decisions with respect to construction methods and ensure long service life of ABC projects. There is also an emphasis on developing the next generation of bridge systems that are best suited for ABC application, and the most effective use of high-performing materials and advanced construction methods.

“We are at the forefront of addressing a major infrastructure problem at the national level, and the research being conducted will lead to a new way of building bridges that will be more sustainable and benefit communities at large, all over the country. It will directly address the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge to restore and improve urban infrastructure,” said Ranu Jung, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computing.

The Center also will support graduate students with salary and full tuition. Last week, Azizinamini launched intensive executive education courses for national transportation engineers at FIU’s new facility in Washington, D.C.

FIU’s Bridge Engineering Program, part of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering within the College of Engineering & Computing, is one of five newly designated preeminent programs at the university. An FIU preeminent program is defined as a collaborative endeavor that demonstrates extraordinary success in providing unique learning opportunities, pioneering research and engagement while expanding FIU’s financial base. Designation as a preeminent program is recognition for outstanding contributions to advancing FIU’s BeyondPossible2020 strategic plan and enhancing the university’s reputation at the national and international level.