By Michael Hill
Many had heard about it, but few had seen it till now: the BEAST.
“I’m glad to have finally met the BEAST. If you had done this on Halloween it would have really been interesting,” said Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski.
The BEAST stands for Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing Laboratory. The Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation says there’s nothing like it in the world.
“With this system here we will be able to determine the service life of bridges highly accurately, and in short, we’ll be looking to improve the ways bridges are built and maintained in the future,” said Ali Maher, Director for the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation.
The BEAST will simulate and measure the wear and tear bridges endure in rain, snow, blistering cold, searing heat and even corrosive de-icing chemicals by running twice the weight of the rear carriage of an 18-wheeler thousands of times across a bridge sample.
“The idea is to go ahead and look at the bridges that we’re trying to simulate and then go and construct that same bridge sample so that we’ll have an equivalent of what bridge is out there,” said research manager Andres Roda.
The BEAST cost about $6 million to build. Half was paid with federal funds, the other half from the University. But what it has the potential to save in lives, time and money is immeasurable.
“We can do this in very compressed time. So over the course of say six months you can see how a bridge may deteriorate over 20 years,” said researcher Franklin Moon.
“Having this kind of tool will help us understand how to best allocate what our, admittedly scarce, dollars is one of the most important things we can do. Not only for the longterm safety of our transportation infrastructure, but when we are convincing our constituents and our colleagues on the need for the investment,” Wisniewski said.
After cutting the ribbon, the center gave a tour in the belly of the BEAST. Engineers and builders marveled at it as if it were a new wonder of the world, including Richard Weber and AJ Alexander who do specialty testing for the state DOT.
“I think it’s amazing. The first of its kind. The idea of exponentially speeding up what we see happening to our roads and bridges is pretty amazing,” Weber said. Alexander added, “Technology on that is crazy. I like it.”
Weber and Alexander are eager to come back and see the BEAST at work, along with others eager to see the BEAST drive down the cost of maintaining and building bridges.