PI: Spencer Quiel, Clay Naito
University: Lehigh University

Recent events worldwide have demonstrated a need for evaluating and potentially hardening tunnels and underground construction against severe fire and blast hazards. The primary investigators (PIs) are currently engaged in a federally-funded university transportation center (UTC) with Colorado School of Mines focused on underground construction.

The associated research project underway at Lehigh University focuses on the response of concrete liners in vehicular tunnels to fire and blast hazards. A significant portion of the US tunnel inventory (including most tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike) includes false ceilings (typically composed of cast-in-place or precast concrete panels) which separate the main tunnel passageways from the ventilation pathway and mechanical conduits. These ceilings are designed for relatively low loading from self-weight, ventilation pressure, and maintenance live loads. Initial studies indicate that a moderate-to-severe fire and/or blast could pose a significant threat to the structural integrity of these systems, resulting in potential collapse, significant threat to life safety, and long functional downtime.

This proposed PITA project will computationally evaluate the fragility of false ceilings in tunnels for a spectrum of fire and blast loads corresponding to both accidental and intentional threat scenarios.  Prototype false ceilings will be obtained via consultation with PennDOT as well as other state DOT's via the existing UTC. Strategies for mitigation, retrofit, and/or remediation will be developed as a result of this study, which will directly engage engineering leadership at PennDOT as well as a premier protective design firm in Philadelphia. Requested funds will be used to support the research activities of one Ph.D. student and one summer undergraduate research internship. The proposed project will expand the scope of the PIs' current UTC efforts and significantly enhance technology transfer of their results to collaborators at public agencies and companies in Pennsylvania.