Crews Nearing Completion of Bridge Damaged by Driver Hauling Excavator

Wed November 12, 2003 - Southeast Edition
Cynthia W. Wright

In Lowndes County, GA, Department of Transportation (GDOT) crews are in the final stages of construction on Franks Creek Road Bridge, which was damaged when a driver knocked out a portion of it with a piece of heavy equipment.

“One of our contractors, a subcontractor of a prime on the [bridge] project, picked up a large hydraulic excavator on the lowboy. According to the accident report, the driver failed to lower the boom all the way,” said Scott Chambers, GDOT area engineer. “He then proceeded to drive under the bridge, taking out several beams.”

The driver continued for 7 mi. down a portion of highway that hosts an average daily traffic count of 40,000, demolishing an overhead electronic sign — part of GDOT’s fire alert system that crosses the road, said Chambers. Georgia state troopers pulled the man over in Hahira at the next exit, where he was entangled in some power lines. The man was cited for height violation.

“All this in rainy weather! It would have been almost comical if it weren’t so deadly serious,” said Chambers. “It was a miracle no one was injured and no vehicles damaged.”

GDOT had a contractor working in the area where the errant boom knocked parts of steel beams off the bridge. The contractor was able to remove it from the travel lanes. Because of his quick actions, none of the traveling public was injured in the accident.

“We then stopped traffic on I-75 northbound, Exits 22 to 29, and determined that the bridge was unsafe to allow traffic to continue underneath it,” said Chambers. “We put in a temporary detour around the site.”

GDOT received emergency help from the prime contractor and another bridge subcontractor, both of which were working on the project.

“We were able to remove that section of bridge over the northbound lanes within 24 hours from the time we began working on it, and traffic was once again able to flow in that direction,” noted Chambers.

Soon after the accident, GDOT had approximately 15 to 20 people working, and the contractors had an additional 20 to 30. “Everyone was working seven days a week,” said Chambers. “Some workers even went above and beyond with exceptional efforts. They came in on their days off to pitch in and help.”

The existing bridge was a steel beam structure. GDOT was widening section of I-75 where the accident occurred from four lanes to six.

“Eventually we were going to have to replace that bridge when we went to eight lanes. GDOT decided it would be in the best interest to go ahead and replace the damaged bridge right away,” noted Chambers. “So we let an emergency bridge replacement contract to Tidwell Construction Company in an amount of just under $1.5 million. Work on the bridge and lane widening is being done concurrently.”

Equipment brought in for the project includes three rented cranes and various excavators. Most of the major grading has been completed, reducing work to five days a week, Monday through Friday. The bridge replacement completion date is Dec. 31.

Danny Griner, GDOT communications specialist, said the replacement contract is an accelerated six-month project designed to stem the inconvenience and expense to area farmers, of whom more than 30 were heavily impacted by the accident.

A number of the farmers work land on both sides of the interstate. Some had crops planted on one side of the interstate, with bins and barns on the other. Although this had not caused problems in the past, the rebuilding forced farmers to be re-routed onto major roads, bringing delays that cost time and money.