How Have I-85 Repairs Happened So Quickly? | WABE 90.1 FM

How Have I-85 Repairs Happened So Quickly?

May 8, 2017

Interstate 85 near Piedmont Road is scheduled to reopen at the end of May, far before the original deadline of June 15.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, the reduction in timeframe is a result of a series of “best-case scenarios” that pushed construction progress further and faster than the department anticipated.

For those who are curious about what those “best-case scenarios” were and what that means for the construction, we spoke with Scott Higley, Director of Strategic Communications for GDOT and Dan Garcia, CEO of C.W. Matthews Contracting Company, which is working on the I-85 repairs.

What were the best-case scenarios?

June 15 was a conservative estimate in retrospect, Higley said. The date was decided upon before the department knew just how quickly they could collect the materials and workers to get the job done.

And workers have been building around the clock, meaning that progress was being made even as Atlanta was sleeping. When materials were ordered and shipped earlier than anticipated, the ingredients were in place to get much more work done, much faster.

What about the quality of the bridge?

The quality of the repairs was not affected by the shorter timeline, Higley said.

The contractor's use of different materials, such as a faster-curing concrete, contributed to shortening completion time without sacrificing the strength of the bridge, according to Garcia.

How will this affect traffic?

The portion of I-85 that collapsed carries “about a quarter of a million vehicles every day,” Higley said. But only time will tell whether the repaired bridge will alleviate the congestion Atlanta’s surface streets have been facing recently.

“We did see a surge, initially, of people using public transit option,” Higley said, “and that has continued somewhat. There are those of us who have hopes that some of those habits continue. Anything that removes cars from the roadway during peak travel hours,” he said, is a good thing.

The day after I-85 collapsed, MARTA saw a 21 percent increase in ridership, with an 11 percent average increase of ridership on trains, although the increase has slowed recently.

How did the incentives factor in?

Governor Deal suggested an incentive in the contract for the team repairing I-85 to the tune of $3.1 million if they completed the project before the June deadline.

“When you look at the economic impact to the region when you have a section of interstate closed, we all agreed that that incentive, even with full payout – the best case scenario is we open the roadway and pay every penny of that incentive because we gain that many days,” Higley said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the bridge collapse would harm the economy of Atlanta in a variety of ways, from keeping people indoors rather than out at restaurants, to driving away companies who are looking to relocate to the city.

Still, “these are taxpayer dollars, so you always have to be judicious about the use of taxpayer dollars,” Higley said, “even in an emergency situation.”

Has the other road work taken away from finishing this job?

Atlanta’s has faced a myriad of transportation issues since the I-85 bridge collapse.

Most recently, a MARTA tunnel filled with smoke, which halted service for a time; I-20 buckled, which shut down all lanes for hours; and Roswell Road was recently closed when a sinkhole formed as a result of a water main break, just to name a few.

But those roadway issues haven’t affected GDOT’s work on I-85, the department said. They’ve been hiring from a large pool of contractors to get all of the necessary road work done at the same time.

Is GDOT better prepared now for the future possibility of similar incidents?

The recent roadway incidents don’t indicate any hints of weakening infrastructure, Higley said.

“They were all sort of random occurrences that happened in a very tight time frame,” he said.

Despite that, Higley said that these incidents are just a reminder that GDOT must always be vigilant and ready to mobilize at any time.

Additionally, through investigation Higley said, there might be some opportunities to learn more about why these incidents occurred so that GDOT can ensure they will never happen again.

“The ability to mobilize that quickly was one of the keys that have helped us move this repair along as quickly as possible, but there were so many key learnings along the way that I think would help inform anything of this nature that would happen in the future,” Higley said. “Heaven forbid, we hope it never happens again. But in the event that it does, we’ve certainly got a textbook case of how to pull something together and mobilize quickly to be able to rebuild a bridge in eight to 10 weeks.”

What are the next steps?

“We’re really focused on getting the roadway open before Memorial weekend,” Higley said.

At this point, inclement weather has prevented road crews from pouring concrete necessary for the project. But despite the weather issues, keeping on schedule should not be a problem, he said.

According to a GDOT press release, as of April 25 two more decks of the bridge still had to be poured. Afterward, the roadway surface will be made safe for driving through a “grinding and grooving” process, joints in the bridge will be sealed, and stripes will be drawn along the roadway.