The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has recognized Montana State University researchers and the Montana Department of Transportation for the development and use of ultra-high-performance concrete to replace two critical bridges. The UHPC was used to join precast concrete slabs.



BOZEMAN — Montana State University engineering researchers who developed a specialized concrete and helped use it for the first time in an innovative bridge-replacement project in the state have been honored with a national award.

The award, one of 11 given by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials during the organization’s annual meeting Oct. 28 in Orlando, Florida, recognized Montana Department of Transportation’s partnership with MSU to replace two bridges on Highway 43 near the town of Wisdom using ultra-strong concrete designed and tested by MSU researchers.

A video played during the award ceremony described the Trail Creek bridges project — which was completed within just four days during the summer of 2021 — as a “daunting challenge” and highlighted MDT’s ongoing research partnership with MSU as enabling the project’s success.

“It’s exciting to receive this recognition,” said Mike Berry, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. “It’s really the culmination of years of research and collaboration.”

Because the highway serves as a critical link between the Bitterroot and Big Hole valleys, MDT designed the replacement of two aging bridges to use pre-fabricated concrete slabs joined with the specialized concrete, which is exceptionally strong and durable compared with traditional concrete, according to Lenci Kappes, an MDT engineer who worked on the project.

“It was like a big Lego kit so we could tear out the old bridges and quickly assemble the new ones,” said Kappes, who earned his engineering degrees at MSU, including a doctorate in civil engineering in 2016. The MSU-developed material, called ultra-high performance concrete, “was the glue that held everything together.”