ASR/DEF-Damaged Bent Caps: Shear Tests and Field Implications

Deschenes, Dean J.


Over the last decade, a number of reinforced concrete bent caps within Houston, Texas have exhibited premature concrete damage (cracking, spalling and a loss of material strength) due to alkali-silica reaction (ASR) and/or delayed ettringite formation (DEF). The alarming nature of the severe surface cracking prompted the Houston District of the Texas Department of Transportation to initiate an investigation into the structural implications of the premature concrete damage. Specifically, an interagency contract with the University of Texas at Austin charged engineers at Ferguson Structural Engineering Laboratory to:

1. Establish the time-dependent relationship between ASR/DEF deterioration and the shear capacity of affected bridge bent caps.

2. Develop practical recommendations for structural evaluation of in-service bridge bent caps affected by ASR and/or DEF.

To accomplish these objectives, six large-scale bent cap specimens were fabricated within the laboratory. Four of the specimens (containing reactive concrete exposed to high curing temperatures) represented the most severe circumstances of deterioration found in the field. The remaining two specimens (non-reactive) provided a basis for the comparison of long-term structural performance. All of the specimens were subjected to a conditioning regimen meant to foster the development of realistic ASR/DEF-related damage. Resulting expansions were characterized over the course of the study through a carefully-planned monitoring program. Following a prolonged exposure period, three of the six bent cap specimens (representing undamaged, mild, and moderate levels of deterioration) were tested in shear. Observations made over the course of each test captured the service and ultimate load effects of ASR/DEF-induced deterioration. Six shear-critical spans were tested prior to this publication: three deep beam and three sectional shear tests. The remaining six shear spans (contained within the remaining three specimens) were retained to establish the effects of severe deterioration through future shear testing.

Subsequent analysis of the expansion monitoring and shear testing data provided much needed insight into the performance and evaluation of ASR/DEF damaged bent structures. The results ultimately formed a strong technical basis for the preliminary assessment of a damaged bent structure within Houston, Texas.

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