Research engineer Andrés Roda in fron of the The BEAST (Bridge Evaluation and Structural Testing laboratory).


The BEAST (Bridge Evaluation and Structural Testing laboratory) is a product of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation, where research engineer Andrés Roda oversaw its construction. “Engineers will be able to fast-forward, observe, and quantify the effects of environmental and traffic loading on bridge superstructure systems."

Carl Blesch

The BEAST has arrived at Rutgers. Far from being scary, though, it’s the world’s first outdoor laboratory capable of simulating bridge deterioration by inflicting and intensifying stresses from the environment and heavy traffic. The BEAST (Bridge Evaluation and Structural Testing laboratory)—a product of the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT)—uses rapid-cycling temperature fluctuations, precipitation and de-icing treatments, and a weighted rolling device similar to a truck chassis to replicate the usual stresses. In the span of a year, the BEAST can, through simulations, accelerate the wear-and-tear that a highway bridge would experience during 10 to 15 years of actual use.

“For the first time, engineers will be able to fast-forward, observe, and quantify the effects of environmental and traffic loading on bridge superstructure systems—and condense decades of aging into just a few months,” says Andrés Roda ENG’98, GSNB’00, CAIT research engineer in charge of the BEAST’s construction.

The average age of America’s bridges is 42 years, and the Federal Highway Administration says that more than 30 percent of U.S. bridges have exceeded their 50-year design life. Nearly one in four is classified as either functionally obsolete (it doesn’t fully meet design standards or traffic demands) or structurally deficient (it needs major repair or replacement). However, rebuilding the 63,300-plus “critical care” bridges that are rated structurally deficient is logistically and financially impossible.

The only realistic option is to  extend the life of existing structures  by identifying optimal preservation and rehabilitation techniques as well as figuring out the materials and management strategies that will maximize their life span and ensure that new bridges last 100 years or more. With the BEAST, CAIT and its partners have created a way to project future performance based on reliable scientific data, providing engineers and managers with information on which to base these crucial decisions.

The United States has invested more than $2 trillion building the nation’s bridges and spends about $5 billion each year maintaining and repairing bridges, according to Franklin Moon, a civil engineering professor at Drexel University and collaborator on the project.

“That is less than 1 percent of the cost of those assets,” Moon says. “In addition to more investment, the civil- engineering community owes it to  taxpayers to see if it can come up with  a better plan for where and how we spend that money. That’s where the BEAST is really going to prove its value.”

Ali Maher, the director of CAIT, says the BEAST’s ability to provide empirical data now, instead of relying on decades of field monitoring, will provide state and federal transportation agencies with evidence that allows them to make decisions with a high level of confidence and optimize expenditures when caring for our nation’s aging, deteriorating bridges.

“Ultimately, what the BEAST can teach us will significantly improve public safety, facilitate U.S. commerce and economic growth, and potentially save billions in infrastructure expenditures,” Maher says.