In a long-awaited market opening this summer, California will allow suppliers of polymer-matrix-composite systems to compete with traditional steel wrap for contracts to seismic-retrofit hundreds of highway bridge columns. Designers ``could consider composites'' to wrap some 500 circular or rectangular columns with diameters of four feet or less, said Jim Drago, spokesman for the California Transportation Department. ``The number [of columns] could change,'' Drago said, particularly if designers allow use of composites on larger columns.
Composites would be most applicable for locations where conventional steel-column jackets would be difficult to install, said Mohsen Sultan, chief of Caltrans' new technology management branch.
Advanced-composite companies Hexcel Fyfe Co. and XXsys Technologies Inc., both located in San Diego, have shown their column-wrapping technologies in demonstration projects and received conditional approval to be added to the bidder's lists of Caltrans.
Sultan said joint-venture Hardcore DuPont Composites LLC of New Castle, Del., may receive conditional approval by early July.
Funding for the phase-two work will come from the Proposition 192 bond issue, which received approval from 60 percent of Californians who voted in the state's March 26 election. The work will strengthen 1,169 bridges and seven state-owned toll spans that Caltrans identified for retrofit following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
The state's general fund will repay the bond issue's $2 billion principal and $1.4 billion interest over 25 years at about $136 million per year.
Phase one work, nearing completion, included 1,039 bridges that were listed following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
A separate but related program to qualify polymer composite-wrapping systems for Caltrans retrofit work has drawn interest recently from XXsys, Hardcore DuPont and the CMI Inc. unit of highway contractor C.C. Myers Inc. of Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Previously, Hexcel Fyfe and Japan-based teams headed by Tonen Corp. and Mitsubishi Chemical Corp.'s composite ma-terials unit expressed interest.