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'Smart Bridge' Would Keep Oklahoma Drivers Safe During Winter Weather

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The geothermal "smart bridge" built by Jeff Spitler and his colleagues at Oklahoma State University. The geothermal "smart bridge" built by Jeff Spitler and his colleagues at Oklahoma State University.
Fluid is circulated in tubes in the bridge deck down into the ground. Fluid is circulated in tubes in the bridge deck down into the ground.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has not pursued the technology due to the cost. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has not pursued the technology due to the cost.

Emory Bryan, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma – The salt and sand trucks are out ready to treat bridges when the snow and ice comes, but what if bridges had something inside them to prevent them from freezing?

There is technology that does that.

Scientists have tried hot water and electric heat to make bridges less likely to freeze. Oklahoma State proved several years ago there is a system that works.

Jeff Spitler and his colleagues at Oklahoma State University built a geothermal "smart bridge" back in 2001. It melts snow and ice with hot water that's pumped through the bridge in the summer.

"You know how hot concrete gets in Oklahoma gets in the summer, I don't know if you can really fry an egg on it, but it seems like it. And we actually circulate fluid in these tubes in the bridge deck down into the ground," Spitler said.

The water is stored deep underground and pumped back out in the winter.

"We actually store it from the summer to winter," Spitler said.

Before the bridge can ice over, the geothermal system warms the surface just enough.

The problem is the cost of installation and maintenance. The upside is it extends the life of a bridge, while keeping it clear of snow in bad weather.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has not pursued the technology. Cost is the problem, both for fixing the bridges we have and for adding any new technology along the way.

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