SCI Conducts Bridge Feasibility Study

Jan 19, 2011

by Eric K. Larsson, Ph.D. Director, Center for Maritime Education

On January 5 and 6, a total of 28 representatives from the West Virginia Department of Highways, the Ohio Department of Transportation, The US Coast Guard Bridge Branch, HDR Engineering, as well as inland river industry marine superintendants, captains and pilots from 5 different companies and SCI's professional staff gathered in Paducah, KY for a bridge feasibility study. SCI regularly conducts feasibility studies to test proposed modifications or additions that in some way impact navigation on the nation's waterways.

The study examined a total of 4 separate bridge locations on the Ohio River between Brooke County, WV and Jefferson County, OH using a sophisticated database area developed in-house by SCI. Using advanced simulation technology, computer programmers placed bridge pier locations in various span arrangements for the 4 different bridges.

After situating various locations of the bridges and piers, captains and pilots used simulated towing vessels at SCI's Paducah Center for Maritime Education to navigate under the simulated bridges with worst-case scenarios for wind, current, and vessel types. Experience of the captains and pilots ranged from 2 weeks to 35 years, thus recreating the experience levels of those who might pass under this yet-to-be constructed bridge in coming years.

The significant investigation conducted a total of 27 separate runs that took into account variables such as medium or high flow currents, day or night situations, fully loaded barges or empty barges, and up river or down river scenarios. After each run, captains and pilots debriefed, commenting on the ease or difficulty of the scenario and the safety margins that could be expected if a bridge was built in that position.

After two intense days of work, those involved with the testing discussed suggestions on bridge span width and locations. From this, SCI will produce a final report. Reports like this help make inland waterways safer for mariners and the general public and save millions of dollars.

Watch one of the simulations from SCI's feasibility study below.

Feasibility Study Simulation at SCI-Paducah from The Seamen's Church Institute on Vimeo.

Things look deceptively quiet on the river … but this video from SCI's January 2011 feasibility study of bridge locations on the Ohio River shows just one of many changing conditions on the water. During this exercise, captains navigated under the simulated bridges with varying scenarios for wind, current, and vessel types. This panoramic sweep of the windows in one of SCI's Paducah, KY simulators shows the real-life projections that allow these studies to save lives and money.