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Studying the Skyway Bridge

Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011

Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 11:03

With the Veterans Glass City Skyway Bridge closing last Thursday due to falling ice, Richard Martink

File photo by Nick Kneer / IC

With the Veterans Glass City Skyway Bridge closing last Thursday due to falling ice, Richard Martinko is leading a team of 31 researchers attempting to find ways to deice the bridge and prevent icing. They will continue gathering data for two to three more years.

With the Veterans Glass City Skyway Bridge closing last Thursday due to falling ice, a team of researchers centered at the University of Toledo seized the opportunity to test and expand their study of the icing process on the bridge.

Through the Ohio Department of Transportation, Director of Intermodal Transportation Institute and University Transportation Center, Richard Martinko leads a team of 31 who are attempting to find the best solution to prevent icing and deice the bridge.

"With the last icing event, the question is do our sensors tell us what's going on? Are they reflecting what's happening on the stays?" said Douglas Nims, associate professor of civil engineering.

Martinko said the instruments on the I-280 Bridge are reading accurately.

The research team is not just composed of members from Toledo. Martinko said other notable institutions include the University of Cincinnati and the U.S. Army's Cold Weather Research and Engineering Lab.

Martinko said his team will continue gathering data for an approximate two to three more years.

"That's the first phase of our study," Martinko said. "Because if you have a de-icing system, when would you turn it on? Every time it got cold? What we want to do is when the conditions are right, so that you could deploy the icing system when it's necessary."

When gathering the data, Martinko said there are instruments that capture statistics such as wind speed, amount of sunlight, clouds and temperatures of the cables. The team takes raw data and puts them into an algorithm which is used to predict when an icing event would happen, how likely an icing event would occur and how the ODOT should handle the situation.

"The problem is that you have to trust the warning system," Martinko said.

Because there is no generic solution to fixing the icing problem, Martinko said the answer will most likely be a combination of a few ideas.

Some of the possible solutions include releasing agricultural chemicals onto the large exterior cables and heating the interior cables. All possible solutions will be tested in cold-weather labs, Martinko said.

"All of these are on the table. The first order of business is concurrently figure out what's going on and figure out what to do," he said.

Ice formed on top of the bridge Wednesday night and early Thursday morning causing it to be closed. On the morning of the closing, temperatures rose, causing the ice to melt away and fall onto the road in large pieces.

The Northbound side of the interstate was closed until 5:30 p.m. while the Southbound route stayed closed for approximately an hour. Traffic was backed up to Navarre Avenue in Oregon.

According to an article by the Toledo Blade, 70,000 cars and trucks cross the bridge on an average day.

The Skyway opened in the summer of 2007. Beginning in 2009, ODOT wanted to review icing events and look at cold-weather solutions that are financially reasonable.

"People have been studying this event and type of phenomena internationally. There is someone at UT who has done their doctorate in de-icing," Martinko said.

Martinko said the work done by his team would not only affect the Skyway, but other bridges throughout the states.

"If ODOT can find an answer and mitigate this problem, it will help them in future bridge designs, it will help all the other states in future bridge designs, it could help in developing technology, other stuff that's going on. It's pretty cutting-edge."

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