The Mount Vernon Highway bridge over Interstate 285 in Sandy Springs, Ga., will remain closed until 2024 after a tractor-trailer carrying an excavator crashed into it in late September, significantly damaging the bridge beams.
Structural evaluations of the bridge were concluded the next day, when it was determined that five of the bridge's six beams were too heavily impaired to reopen and required replacement, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Natalie Dale, a spokesperson of the state agency, initially told the newspaper that Mount Vernon Highway would not reopen to vehicle or pedestrian traffic until summer 2024.
"Safety of the traveling public is paramount in all Georgia DOT decisions," she explained. "GDOT is working with the contractor and evaluating all viable options to advance the current project timeline."
A few days later, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul announced that GDOT crews would accelerate construction of the new bridge, although it still will take many months to complete, according to Rough Draft Atlanta.
"We had a truck driver who took a million-dollar piece of equipment, turned it into a battering ram, and we're left to pay the consequences for a while," Paul said during an Oct. 3 Sandy Springs City Council meeting.
Authorities closed the bridge and the westbound I-285 lanes below after the truck clipped the overpass around noon on Sept. 27, snarling traffic during the evening commute. The damaged portion was secured overnight to prevent debris from falling onto the interstate, and all lanes of westbound I-285 reopened before dawn the next morning.
The Journal-Constitution learned from GDOT that the truck and equipment involved in the wreck were not related to the construction crews already in the area for a long-planned reconstruction of the bridge, originally built in 1962.
Since Sept. 5, the inside lanes on both the inner and outer loop of I-285 have been closed due to work associated with a lane extension project. The project aims to add an auxiliary lane along I-285 between Roswell Road and Riverside Drive as well as replace the Mount Vernon Highway bridge.
The original contract was expected to continue until Nov. 4, but due to needed repairs and material availability, Dale said completion of the project and reopening of the overpass is now estimated to conclude next summer.
Better to Replace Than to Repair
According to Rough Draft Atlanta, repairing the old bridge was not an option because it would take six months to fabricate the steel at a cost of $3 million, and three months later it would be torn down as its replacement is completed.
"The best option is to accelerate construction of the bridge that was already under construction to the east of the current bridge," Paul explained.
The Sandy Springs mayor said he was told by GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry that delivery of the steel beams was key to fast-tracking the project.
Moving three water lines that run under the old bridge to the new one will also present a challenge, Paul noted, as well as supply chain issues.
Crews also will not be able to construct the Mount Vernon Highway bridge as fast as repairs were made to the I-85 bridge that collapsed after a fire in 2017.
"[The GDOT understands] that this is a major artery that carries a tremendous amount of traffic and has had to be shifted to other roads such as River Valley, Heards Ferry, and Abernathy, which are experiencing unprecedented levels of congestion as a result," Paul noted.
He warned that trying to drive in the area around nearby Riverwood High and Holy Innocents' Episcopal Schools would be a months-long hassle. The best thing parents can do to take pressure off the roads is to put their students onto school buses, he said, and if that is not an option, multifamily carpools can help.
Paul noted his own 3-mi. commute to city hall used to take seven minutes but is "now a 30-minute trip under the best of conditions."
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