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Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

Overview of External PostTensioning in Bridges

T.G. Suntharavadivel
PhD Candidate
Thiru Aravinthan
Senior Lecturer in Structural Engineering
Faculty of Engineering & Surveying
University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba QLD
Over the last few decades, there has been a rapid increase in the volume and weight of heavy
vehicles using national road networks. At the same time, more than fifty percent of the bridge
structures are over forty years old all around the world. Consequently deterioration of the
existing bridges due to increasing traffic loads, exposure to adverse environmental conditions
and structural aging has become a major problem today. These bridges are not able to cope
up with the current traffic requirements and require either weight restriction, strengthening or
even total replacement. Several methods developed to strengthen such bridges. Due to
economical reasons, design engineers are looking for costeffective strengthening methods
for bridges. External post-tensioning is one of the widely used strengthening techniques due
to its advantages. The external post-tensioning has been applied mainly in bridges and the
technique is growing in popularity because of the speed of construction and minimal
disruption to traffic flow. This paper briefly discusses the use of external post-tensioning in
new bridges and strengthening of existing bridges. Some of the recent research and
development on the applications of external post-tensioning for bridge rehabilitation are also
Keywords: bridge, external post-tensioning, strengthening, rehabilitation

The rapid growth in the weight and volume of heavy vehicles has resulted in continuous
increase in the design loads for the bridge structures in recent years. Because of this, many of
existing bridges are considered inadequate to meet the current design load requirement.
Consequently, the deterioration of the existing bridges due to exposure to adverse
environmental conditions and structural aging has become a major problem today.
Combination of these factors has resulted in either imposing weight restriction on these
bridges or upgrading the existing bridges to satisfy the increased loads.
Various methods for bridge rehabilitation are currently available including the replacement of
damaged or under-strength members or components, addition of structural material using
steel or reinforced concrete jackets, bonded steel plates, etc. Two methods that are currently
proving to be very useful in increasing the capacity of short and medium span bridges are
plate bonding (either fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) laminates or steel plates) and external
post-tensioning (1). These methods can be applied to a wide range of structures. This paper
focuses on the use of external post-tensioning, and presents some applications in new and
existing bridges.

Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges


External post-tensioning is one of the latest developments in prestressed concrete technology.
It refers to a prestressing technique where the prestressing tendons are placed outside the
concrete section and the prestressing force is transferred to the concrete by means of end
anchorages, deviators and saddles. The application of the external prestressing in
strengthening leads to a new structural system of which the behaviour is different from the
original structural member (2). Because of its practical advantages, external prestressing
becomes a widely used technique in construction and strengthening of bridge structures.
External post-tensioning and plate bonding are two methods proving to be very useful in
increasing the capacity of short and medium span bridges. However, external post-tensioning
has many advantages over other strengthening techniques. Some of the advantages include:
Economical construction
Easy monitoring and maintenance
Easier tendon layout, placement and easier construction and compaction
Can be use in wide range of the bridges (small, medium and long span bridges)
Figure 1 shows typical layout of an externally post-tensioned box girder bridge. Generally,
the external tendons are placed in the hollow section of the box girder. The prestressing force
is transferred to the beam through end anchorages and deviators.
External Tendons

Deviator Blocks

Diaphragm Anchorage

Figure 1: Typical layout of an externally post-tensioned box girder bridge

Strengthening by external post-tensioning is simply the application of an axial load combined
with a hogging bending moment to improve the flexural and/or shear capacity of a structural
member. The method can also be used to improve serviceability. For example, the increased
stiffness provided by external post-tensioning can reduce in-service deflections and
vibrations. The stress range at a critical location can be also reduced thus improving fatigue
performance. The presence of large deflections or sag in a bridge can be reduced or removed.
It is also possible to use post-tensioning to change the structural behaviour in order to
increase strength. For example, the strengthening objective might be to provide continuity
across a support, i.e., change a series of simply supported spans to a continuous one. It can
also be used to provide continuity across an unsupported joint, for example, across the joint
between two cantilever spans (1).
Post-tensioning for bridges has been in use since the 1950s and there are many examples
throughout the world. In most situations, the load is applied through prestressing cables,
either single or grouped strands. In some applications, the stress has been applied through

Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

high tensile bars. In a few cases, the stress is applied using more unconventional techniques.
For example, stress in a tendon can be developed by anchoring a straight tendon in place and
imposing a deflection at mid-span. The deflection is then retained by fixing the deflected
point. Prestress can also be developed by applying a load to impose a deflection in the deck
prior to anchoring the tendons or bars. An extension on the use of external tendons is to place
them at large eccentricities. This is possible only when external prestressing is used, since the
tendons need not be arranged within the concrete section (Figure 2).

End Anchorage

External Tendon

End Anchorage

Large Eccentric External Tendon

(a) Conventional tendon placement

(b) Tendon with large eccentricity

Figure 2: Possible tendon placement in external post-tensioning


External Post-tensioning is used in many countries for the construction of new bridges. The
worlds first externally prestressed concrete bridge was built in Germany in 1936 (3). The
main span of the first bridge was 25.2 metres long. From that time, the design and application
had changed and currently the external prestressing is used to large span modern bridges.
However the application of external prestressing has been limited until late seventies after
finding some serious shortcomings with the external tendons. Major issue associated with the
external tendons was the corrosion of steel tendons, which were inadequately protected.
External prestressing has been developed in many countries, particularly for new bridges,
during the eighties after the invention of high performance steel with adequate protection
against corrosion. The development of fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) tendons led to a
remarkable use of external prestressing in bridges. Because external prestressing system is
simpler to construct and easier to inspect and maintain as compared with the internal tendon
system, it has been proposed recently in the construction of segmental bridges (4, 5) as well.
Some of the recent application of external prestressing in the new bridges is briefly discussed
in the following section.
3.1 Segmental Viaduct with External Post-tensioning
The Shigenobu River Bridge is an externally prestressed segmental bridge constructed in
Japan, which spans the Shigenobu River in Shikoku region. The construction work was
completed in 1997 (Figure 3 and 4). Considerable time saving is one of the important factors
that favour this type of construction. The use of continuous span bridges as the Shigenobu
River Viaduct is gaining popularity in Japan since the number of expansion joints are
reduced, resulting in better driving conditions.

Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

Figure 3: Shigenobu River Bridge, Japan

Figure 4: external tendons inside box-girder

3.2 Girder Bridge with Large Eccentricity

A new type of continuous girder bridge with large eccentricity was constructed in 2001 for a
pedestrian bridge in Japan (Figure 5). The bridge was total length of 57 metres and 3 metres
wide (maximum width in the middle is 6 metres).

Figure 5: Pedestrian Bridge with Large Eccentricity Post-tensioning Tendons

In this structure, the external tendons are placed below the girder in the mid span region by
means of steel struts, the function of which is similar to a truss. At the intermediate support
region, it is placed above the bridge deck. Considerable research and analysis has been
performed before the construction of this bridge (6). This is a novel application where the use
of external post-tensioning has been effectively used to enhance the appetence of the bridge.
3.3 Composite Bridges Using External Post-tensioning
External prestressing has been used not only in concrete bridges but also in composite
bridges, either in classical composite bridges or in new type of bridges with different ways
associating concrete and steel (3).
The use of prestressed concrete box girder bridges with corrugated steel webs is being
constructed widely considering the cost effectiveness to construct new bridges. In this
structure, the concrete webs are replaced with corrugated steel plates to reduce the selfweight, which also simplify the construction. Figure 6 shows the typical section of a
prestressed concrete bridge with corrugated webs (6). Basically, the prestress is provided by
means of bonded tendons arranged in the upper and lower flanges of concrete slab and
unbonded external tendons, since the webs are made of steel plates. It is known that a
Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

reduction of self-weight of about 25% can be achieved in this kind of structures, compared to
conventional prestressed concrete box-girder bridges. Number of bridges with corrugated
steel webs has been constructed worldwide. Some examples of such bridges constructed with
this technique are discussed below.
Upper concrete slab

Corrugated steel web

Corrugated steel web

Lower concrete slab

External tendons

Figure 6: Typical section of a prestressed concrete bridge with corrugated webs

The Ginzan-Miyuki Bridge has five spans with a total length of 210 m, which was the first
bridge to be constructed in Japan using the incremental launching method. Weathering steel
plates were used for the web. The feature of this bridge is that stud dowels connectors were
adopted for the connection between concrete and steel plate. Further, the connection between
steel plates in the direction of the bridge axis was by means of bolt connection of the end
plates. This method was adopted considering the aesthetic appearance of the bridge.

Figure 7: Completed view of Shirasawa Bridge

The Shirasawa Bridge that has a span of 50 m was also constructed in Japan using supported
formwork (Figure 7). The unique feature of this bridge is that, it has a horizontal curvature
with a radius of 250 m. The presence of horizontal curvature influences the overall behaviour
and torsional deformation of the structure, which need appropriate analysis and design.
Another feature of this bridge is that perforbond connection was adopted for the first time
in Japan to connect the steel web and lower flange of concrete slab. The Kogawauchi-gawa
Bridge with a length of 160 m was constructed by the cantilever lunching method. Painted
steel plates were used for the web. The connection between steel and concrete was by means
of angle dowels, which is the main feature of this bridge. The above examples illustrate by
the use of external post-tensioning how composite bridges can be designed to enhance better
performance by effective use of materials such as steel and concrete.

Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

3.4 Lightweight Concrete Bridge with External Post-tensioning

Another remarkable development in the bridge industry is the use of lightweight concrete in
construction of new bridges as well as rehabilitation of the existing bridges. In recent years,
high-performance lightweight aggregates (HLA) have been developed that has superior
characteristics such as high strength and low water absorption than the conventional artificial
lightweight aggregates. With the development of such aggregates, it has become possible to
construct lightweight structures with excellent durability.

Figure 8: Lightweight concrete made of high-performance lightweight aggregates

Shirarika River Bridge (Figure 9) in Japan was constructed with high-performance
lightweight concrete with external prestressing. This was first bridge in Japan, which adopted
HLA concrete for a prestressed concrete bridge. This is a three span continuous box-girder
bridge with prestressing in the longitudinal direction being provided completely by external
tendons. Another important feature in this bridge is that transparent sheaths were used to
cover for external tendons (Figure 10). This facilitated proper monitoring of grouting of
external tendons to prevent any corrosion.

Figure 9: Shirarika River Bridge made of

HLA concrete

Figure 10: Transparent sheaths used for

inspection of grouting

The above application illustrates the ongoing development to improve grouting issues related
with internal and external bonded tendons. It is expected with improved protection to steel
external tendons, the use of this technology will become more popular.

Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges


While new bridges are constructed using external post-tensioning as discussed above, over
the last two decades external post-tensioning has also been considered as one of the most
powerful techniques for structural strengthening and rehabilitation. External post-tensioning
is preferred for bridge strengthening projects due to its advantages including:
Minimal disruption to traffic
Low weight of the additional components
Speed and short duration of construction
Low costs involved
Future re-stressing operations could be carried out quickly and conveniently (if
The following projects are some examples of the application of external post-tensioning in
strengthening of bridges.
4.1 Flexural Strengthening of Bridge Girders
In Indonesia, two bridges, Condet Bridge (steel beam and concrete slab composite bridge
built in 1989) and Kemlaka Gede Bridge (single span steel beam bridge) were strengthened
by external post-tensioning to enable it to carry full design loading (1). Both are very similar
flexural strengthening projects using external post-tensioning.

Figure 11: View of the Condet Bridge

after Strengthening (1)

Figure 12: Kemlaka Gede Bridge after

Strengthening (1)

4.2 Shear Strengthening of Headstocks

The headstocks of the Hawthorne and Morrison Bridges in USA were strengthened by
external post-tensioning. A system of externally mounted post-tensioned bars has been used
to increase the compressive strength of the concrete caps, thereby increasing the load carrying
capability of the headstocks. A steel I-beam was used as an anchoring block on each end of
the headstock. Through this beam were inserted two or four bars which ran the length of the
headstock. Hangers were used to support the weight of the rods. Figure 13 shows the typical
application of the external post-tensioning in headstock strengthening.

Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

Figure 13: Morrison Bridges headstock

strengthening, USA

Figure 14: Shear strengthening of Tenthill

Creek Bridge, Gatton, QLD


A similar project was carried out to strengthen the headstock of the Tenthill Creek Bridge
located in Gatton, Queensland (Figure 14). Heavy transportation across the Tenthill Creek
Bridge has caused some shear cracking in the headstocks. The headstock was strengthened by
external post-tensioning. The shear cracks were properly repaired with epoxy injection prior
to the external post-tensioning to achieve maximum efficiency of the strengthening. It is
envisaged this type of strengthening will be used more in the near future for headstock
4.3 Rehabilitation with Lightweight Concrete
The deck of the Puttesund Bridge in Norway was rehabilitated by replacing concrete
sidewalks with aluminium, replacing portions of slabs and surfacing with lightweight
concrete, and installing external prestressing (7). The main purpose of the use of the light
weight concrete is to reduce the weight of the span. This bridge was originally constructed in
1970 as cable stayed bridge and rehabilitated in 2002 to extend its life according to current

Figure 15: Puttesund Bridge, Norway


Southern Engineering Conference 2005

Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges


5.1 Fibre Composites in External Post-tensioning
The use of fibre composites as prestressing material is increasing dur to its advantages. The
corrosion of the prestressing steel is the one of the major issue overcome by the use of fibre
composites as prestressing materials. However, the implementation of prestressed fibre
composites has been limited due to some shortcomings such as relaxation losses. These
issues need further investigations (8).
5.2 Shear Strengthening Using External Post-tensioning
Flexural strengthening of reinforced concrete members with externally placed un-bonded
tendons (9-12) has been studied in detail by researchers at many institutions and used in many
bridges around the world. However studies and application on shear strengthening of
reinforced concrete beams using external post-tensioning have been limited, and to a certain
degree controversial. The effect of existing shear cracks is one of the major issues in the
development of the externally prestressed strengthening of bridges (13). Even though the effect
of existing cracks is minimal in the flexural strengthening of bridge structures (14), it has a
significant effect in the shear strength of the bridge members strengthened by external posttensioning. Even though some of the standards recommend (15) to seal the existing cracks the
effect of the shear cracks and the recommended repair method yet to investigate in detail.
External post-tensioning has been a popular technology that had been used in the construction
of new bridges and strengthening of existing bridges.

It is evident that the external post-tensioning is a viable technology for new bridges that
had resulted in the construction of several innovative bridge including composite bridges,
bridges with large eccentric tendons and bridges using lightweight concrete.
This technology has been successfully used for flexural and shear strengthening of
existing bridges in many part of the world.
While this technology is viable, there is need for further research especially in the area of
shear strengthening of members such as headstocks with existing cracks.
While the adoption of external post-tensioning technology in Australia has been limited,
the authors believe that the trend will improve with further research and development of
this technology. Such development could lead to sustainable bridge management in

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Overview of External Post-Tensioning in Bridges

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