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Bridge & Highway Market Faces Crossroads

Dee McNeill is the Strategic Account Manager for the Bridge & Highway Market. In this Q & A, he addresses the evolving role of coatings supplier as it applies to the infrastructure.

CS:What’s the state of the nation’s bridges and highways, and how are coatings playing a role in their future?

McNeill The Interstate Highway System, which now features more than 590,000 mainline bridges, turned 50 years old in 2006. According to the NBI database, the majority of steel bridges on the National Highway System are over 40 years old.

Most of these structures were designed to a standard performance life of 50 years. It is apparent that the robust nature of steel structures coupled with design conservatism has provided much longer inherent lives for these structures than this original design goal. This is probably no credit to maintenance painting, however, as most of the structures built during the 1950’s and 60’s were preserved with multiple thin coats of lead containing paints and have received little or no maintenance painting on a regular basis since. While no evidence suggests maintenance painting—or the lack thereof — had anything to do with the 2007 Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minn., it remains a dramatic reminder of our current working landscape.

As a result, it is clear that significant effort and increased funding will be needed to extend the system-wide service life of our nation’s bridges.

CS: How do coatings manufacturers play a role?

McNeill That role is evolving. In recent years, our emphasis was in reducing costs to ownership by developing our Fast Clad coating systems that could be applied in fewer coats, requiring less labor and minimizing service outages.

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