Contract Awarded to Replace Destroyed Birmingham Bridge

Fri November 05, 2004 - Southeast Edition

BIRMINGHAM, AL (AP) A $5.5 million contract has been awarded to replace the bridge at the I-20/59 and I-65 interchange that was destroyed after a fuel tanker crashed and burned at one of Alabama’s busiest highway interchanges during rush hour on Oct. 21. The crash melted part of a bridge and is promising traffic headaches while the overpass is replaced.

Brasfield & Gorrie LLC and the Morris Group of Birmingham will immediately begin construction, expected to be complete by Dec. 31. A $50,000-a-day incentive will be paid to the contractor for every day the project is completed early.

“Swift progress is being made and Alabamians can be confident the state is doing all it can to get the bridge replaced as soon as possible,” said Gov. Bob Riley.

The wreck was the second such crash at “malfunction junction” in less than three years. The interchange was designed in the 1960s, but a transportation official said it would still be safe today if motorists would slow down.

“The design is for 60 mph, but people are going a lot faster than that,” said J.F. Horsley, district engineer of the state highway department.

Authorities said a tanker carrying fuel overturned in a curve about 7 a.m., spilling an estimated 9,000 gallons of fuel that erupted into flames and sent a huge column of inky black smoke skyward.

Mayoral aide Don Lupo said the truck came to rest under a 20/59 overpass, which was blackened and bent by the intense heat of the fire, which burned about 30 minutes.

“The fire just charred the bridge. You can see big chunks of concrete falling off it,” he said.

Workers began demolishing the remains of the bridge within hours of the fiery wreck.

Two lanes are now open on I-20/59 and one lane on the ramp that merges into I-20/59 south. Engineers are developing a plan to detour traffic around the interchange while it is being repaired.

Lt. Henry Irby, a police spokesman, said it was unclear whether charges would be filed against the driver, whose name was not immediately released.

In January 2002, a fuel tanker exploded after colliding with a car at a different part of the same interchange, which was badly damaged. Demolition of that bridge and construction of a new one took less than two months, said Horsley.