Report No.: CCEER-13-8


Authors: Haber, Z., Saiid, M. and Sanders, D.

Date: May 2013

Sponsoring Agency: California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)

Performing Organization:
Department of Civil Engineering/258
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557


Accelerated bridge construction (ABC) has become increasingly popular in the eyes of state and federal transportation agencies because of its numerous advantages. To effectively execute ABC projects, designers utilize prefabricated structural elements that can be quickly assembled to form functional structural systems. It is advantageous to the bridge designer if these systems emulate the design and behavior of conventional cast-in-place systems. If this can be achieved, typical analysis and design procedures can be used. The difficulty with developing emulative systems is usually encountered in the design and detailing of connections. Substructure connections are particularly critical in seismic zones because they must dissipate energy through significant cyclic nonlinear deformations while maintaining their capacity and the integrity of the structural system.

The research presented in this dissertation focused on developing and evaluating earthquake resistant connections for use in accelerated bridge construction. The project was comprised of three main components; testing of five large-scale precast reinforced concrete column models, a series of individual component tests on mechanical reinforcing bar splices, and extensive analytical studies.

Column studies included the design and construction of five half-scale bridge column models that were tested under reversed slow cyclic loading. Four new moment connections for precast column-footing joints were developed each utilizing mechanical reinforcing bar splices to create connectivity with reinforcing bars in a cast-in-place footing. Two different mechanical splices were studied: an upset headed coupler and grout-filled sleeve coupler. Along with the splice type, the location of splices within the plastic hinge zone was also a test variable. All column models were designed to emulate conventional cast-in-place construction thus were compared to a conventional cast-in-place test model. Results indicate that the new connections are promising and duplicate the behavior of conventional cast-in-place construction with respect to key response parameters. However, it was discovered that the plastic hinge mechanism can be significantly affected by the presence of splices and result in reduced displacement ductility capacity.

In order to better understand the behavior of mechanical splices, a series of uniaxial tests were completed on mechanically-spliced reinforcing bars under different loading configurations: monotonic static tension, dynamic tension, and slow cyclic loading. Results from this portion of the project also aided the development of analytical models for the half- and prototype-scale column models. Results indicated that, regardless of loading configuration, specimens failed by bar rupture without damage to the splice itself.

The analytical studies conducted using OpenSEES included development of microscope models for the two mechanical reinforcing bars splices and full analytical models of the five half-scale columns, which were both compared with respective experimental results to validate the modeling procedures and assumptions. Prototype-scale analytical models were also developed to conduct parametric studies investigating the sensitivity of the newly developed ABC connections to changes in design details.

In general, the results of this study indicate that the newly develop ABC connections, which utilize mechanically-spliced connections, are suitable for moderate and high seismic regions. However, emulative design approaches are not suitable for all of the connections develop. A set of design recommendations are provided to guide bridge engineers in the analysis and design of these new connections.