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U of I Civil & Environmental Engineering Faculty Earn a $600K Grant to Improve Bridge Safety and Development

January 31, 2019

Daniele Tonina and Elowyn Yager to conduct three-year study on bridge pier water erosion

Erosion of soil around bridge piers from water flow, called scour, is the No. 1 cause of bridge collapse in the United States. Engineers use mathematical formulas to forecast the potential risk of bridge failure, but most of these equations were developed using sandy riverbeds very different from the rocky waterways of Idaho.

University of Idaho civil and environmental engineering professors Daniele Tonina, Ph.D., P.E., and Elowyn Yager, Ph.D., P.G., are set to study these unique properties and develop an entirely new predictive equation for bridge development with the help of a $600,000 grant from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

TRB provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.

Tonina and Yager were one of 11 research teams to apply for the grant, awarded annually. The grant will also fund positions for two post doctoral scholars and one undergraduate.

The three-year project, which began Jan. 11, 2019, will consist of laboratory research and measurements in the field. A large portion of research will be conducted in the Stream Laboratory, part of the U of I Center for Ecohydraulics Research in Boise, featuring a large-scale sediment flume for researching processes in headwater streams.

Much of the first year will be spent in the Stream Laboratory, using rocks to create surfaces that mimic natural conditions and measuring scour occurrence. Real-time data will also be collected at existing bridge sites in the state.

“The Stream Laboratory has unique capabilities, along with the fact that we have these kinds of rivers in Idaho, it makes it easier to install equipment in the field and gather measurements,” said Yager. “All of that combined, we wouldn’t be able to do this anywhere else.”

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at