Engineering Professor Honored for Significant Contributions to Structural Safety and Performance

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By Mary Ceron-Reyes

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Gongkang Fu book cover

Illinois Institute of Technology Professor of Civil and Architectural Engineering Gongkang Fu has been honored with the 2020 American Society of Civil Engineers’ Alfredo Ang Award on Risk Analysis and Management of Civil Infrastructure for “pioneering and outstanding technical contributions to management practices of bridge infrastructure systems to various natural and man-made hazards.”

Fu’s research incudes developing new national standards for bridge structure design and evaluation along with the development of new methods for testing structures and materials for design and evaluation. His expertise includes bridge engineering, structural engineering, engineering mechanics, and infrastructure management.

“Infrastructure refers to fundamental elements in our lives. This includes water lines, roads, airports, and other systems that may be taken for granted,” says Fu. “It takes significant funding to establish and maintain these facilities for functional standards such as running water reaching your home.”

For more than 30 years, Fu has focused on addressing such structural engineering safety issues with bridges and has collaborated with his students and agencies throughout the United States that work on establishing and maintaining bridge networks.

Among his greatest accomplishments is developing the theories and models that have been adopted in national standards and official software programs, which are technical guidelines for evaluating and ensuring the safety, reliability, productivity, and efficiency of bridge structures and bridge networks. Bridges may be deteriorating at a seemingly slow pace over time periods of years or even decades, he says, while some are deteriorating at a more unpredictable or alarming rate.

With approximately 26,000 bridges in Illinois, Fu emphasizes the need to continuously monitor bridge structures for the detection of damage and deficiencies and the importance of prioritizing timely maintenance. He shares that the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) budget for bridge repairs, rehabilitation, and replacement is limited each year, which is a major funding challenge and issue.

Fu recently completed a research project for IDOT developing a method for evaluating bridges that is also applicable for bridge owners at the city and county levels. U.S. highway bridge design and evaluation has been moving toward structural-reliability-based practices with mandated load and resistance factor specifications. His research report, also co-authored with his students, titled “Illinois-Specific Live-Load Factors Based on Truck Data” and published by the Illinois Center for Transportation in February 2019, presents the new method for predicting truck load effects in bridges.

He explains that trucks represent a major load to highway facilities, such as bridges and pavements. “Therefore, truck load spectra are an important factor in the decision-making process for these facilities—including design, evaluation, maintenance, and replacement. These load spectra significantly influence bridge safety,” says Fu. The new evaluation method for Illinois bridge owners specifically addresses Illinois truck loads to its bridges.

Fu is currently in the final stages of completing another national-level research study focused on the impact on bridges of farm vehicles—tractors, trucks, and other vehicles used by farmers—on highways.

“Farm vehicles are now starting to get on roads but were originally not intended to because they can be heavier and, despite being slower, can create unintended structural stresses in bridges and roads,” he says. His goal is to develop a national standard for evaluating bridges against farm vehicle loads. The new standard will be the first one in the world as well.

Fu was head of structures research with the New York State Department of Transportation for seven years, and has worked on bridge design, evaluation, and research projects for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration and the California, Georgia, New York, Michigan, and Ohio DOTs. He is an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The award is named in honor of Alfredo H.S. Ang, the developer of practical and effective methods of risk and reliability approaches to engineering safety-and-design structural criteria formulation.

Fu will be formally presented with the award at the ASCE Structures Congress in Seattle in March 2021, which was postponed from April 2020 in St. Louis due to COVID-19.