Predicting and Prolonging the Service Life of Weathering Steel Highway Structures
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Weathering steel is a high-strength, low-alloy steel which has been proven to provide a significantly higher corrosion resistance than regular carbon steel. This corrosion resistance is a product of the small amounts of alloying elements added to the steel, which enable it to form a protective oxide layer when exposed to the environment. The main advantage of its use in bridges is that, under normal conditions, it may be left unpainted, leading to significantly reduced maintenance and environmental costs. Weathering steel has been a material of choice for highway structures for almost half a century, and a very large number of structures have been constructed with it. Although its use has for the most part been successful, it has also become evident that, in circumstances where there is the presence of salt and sulphur oxides, its performance is deficient. In these situations the corrosion penetration rate is much higher than expected, and the oxide layer forms in thick layers. This presents an added risk, since these layers flake off and fall onto the roadway. The degree of corrosion on structures can be very different, even if the structural type, location, and climate are similar. Therefore the focus of the thesis is on the lifespan of weathering steel highway structures. Primarily this research is concerned with the effect of corrosion on the integrity of these structures, as well as ways of quantifying corrosion loss and protecting the structure from further corrosion. In order to determine the lifespan of weathering steel highway structures subject to different rates of corrosion, a probabilistic structural analysis program has been developed to assess the time-dependent reliability of the structure. This program used iterative Monte Carlo simulation and a series of statistical variables relating to the material, loading, and corrosion properties of the structure. A corrosion penetration equation is used to estimate thickness loss at a selected interval, and the structural properties of the bridge are modified accordingly. The ultimate limit states of shear, moment, and bearing, and the fatigue limit state of web breathing, are taken into account. Three types of structures are examined: simply-supported box and I-girder composite bridges, and a two-span box girder bridge. Based on the structural analysis of the corroding bridge structures presented herein, it can be seen that corrosion to the weathering steel girders can cause reduced service lives of the structures. I-girder bridges are shown to be more susceptible to corrosion than box girder bridges, with continuous box girder bridges showing the best performance. The amount of truck traffic does not affect the reliability of the bridge. The short-span and high strength steel bridges are more susceptible to corrosion loss, primarily because their girders have thinner sections. A two-lane bridge also has better performance than the wider bridges because the weight of the barriers and sidewalks is carried by fewer girders, so these girders are stockier. The web breathing limit state is less significant than the combined ultimate limit states. Lastly, and most importantly, inspection data from a highway bridge is used to demonstrate the benefit that can be derived from using field data to update the time-dependent reliability. The ultrasonic thickness gauge (UTG) is a common tool for thickness measurement of steel sections. When used to measure weathering steel, this instrument provides accurate data about the depth of corrosion pits, but not their lateral dimensions. The measurement does not include the corrosion layer on the opposite side of the plate from the one being measured; however, if the corrosion layer is on the measured face, a disproportionate increase in the measured thickness can be seen. In order to prevent or minimize corrosion loss, the steel is currently painted, a process with several environmental and financial disadvantages. Therefore, three novel protection methods have been assessed in a cyclic corrosion test: a zinc metallizing, an aluminum-zinc-indium alloy metallizing, and a zinc tape with a PVC topcoat. All these coatings are designed to act not just as barriers, but also as sacrificial anodes. The test was run for 212 24-hr cycles, over the course of which the all the coatings were proven effective at protecting the steel substrate, regardless of steel type and surface roughness and pretreatment. In conclusion, the threat to all types of weathering steel highway structures by contaminant-induced corrosion is significant, but inspection data permits a more accurate prediction of time-dependent reliability for a structure, and protective coatings are a promising method of slowing the advance of corrosion.