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Barge rams pier support again... and again

Orlando Sentinel
MIAMI – A 1,000-ton barge rammed into a pier supporting an aging bridge over Florida's Apalachicola Bay last week, delighting civil engineers, who plan to ram it a dozen more times.

The old St. George Island Causeway Bridge was scheduled for demolition anyway, so the Florida Department of Transportation and engineers at the University of Florida set up a $1 million experiment to collect crash-impact data that will help them design safer bridges.

"It's something that we don't get to do very often," Henry Bollman, senior bridge designer with the department, said Monday as engineers planned two more rammings.

The bridge and the barge are fitted with more than 150 sensors to provide a microsecond-by-microsecond record of the impact as the barge hits the bridge at increasingly faster speeds. The data collected from the crash tests could affect national design codes, the engineers said.

They rented the 150-foot barge from a contractor who built the newly opened replacement bridge connecting the small town of East Point to St. George's Island.

When the tests are done, the experimenters will pay to have the vessel repaired. The bridge will be demolished and the pieces sunk to create an artificial reef for fish.

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