Jun 13, 2023 - News

Atlanta's speedy bridge collapse fix offers roadmap for Philly's I-95

A collapsed section of the bridge is in the background, with smoke damaged foreground

Workers clear debris Monday. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Six years ago, when a portion of I-85 collapsed in Atlanta, Georgia officials thought it'd take several months to repair. It ended up taking just 43 days.

Why it matters: Even though the rebuilding of Philly’s I-95 is expected to take several months, the Atlanta collapse could offer a roadmap to reopen the road ASAP.

How it worked: Georgia officials cut red tape and sped up a project that was first estimated to take three to six months.

  • Immediately, $10 million in federal funds were authorized to repair 350 feet of lanes in both directions.
  • Georgia put up about $3 million in bonuses for the contractor to incentivize early completion.
  • Good weather also helped, the state later reflected. Workers were only rained out one day.

Yes, but: The I-95 rebuild got more complicated Monday, when Pennsylvania officials revealed that the highway's southbound lanes were compromised and must be demolished.

Flashback: Georgia's I-85 went out of commission in March of 2017 after a man allegedly set fire to a chair beneath an overpass. No casualties occurred, but the National Transportation Safety Board determined that Georgia's transportation department was partly at fault for storing flammable plastic pipes that ignited under the bridge.

  • The man, Basil Eleby, who was homeless at the time, faced arson charges that were later dropped when he was admitted to a diversion program, according to WSB.

The day after the fire, then-Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and state transportation leaders were on the phone with then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, recalled Chris Riley, who served as Deal's chief of staff at the time.

Between the lines: The contractor's early completion bonus "was the key," Riley told Axios, helping the project move "at the speed of the private sector."

  • Georgia officials cut some red tape too, Riley said, including waiving standard procurement timelines and labor regulations regarding work hours.
  • Fulton County subsidized metro fares for employees commuting while the interstate was closed, and the state identified alternative routes and commute options.
  • Dan Garcia, president of C.W. Matthews, the contractor, told 11Alive in 2017 the timeline was "unprecedented." They deployed seven bridge crews during the day, six at night and used a more expensive, faster-drying concrete mixture as well, he said.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Josh Shapiro has taken similar measures to speed up the process. He signed a disaster declaration yesterday that paved the way for access to federal funding and freed up $7 million in state funds for the project.

  • Plus, the edict helps to "cut through the red tape" by eliminating procurement requirements, Shapiro said.

What they're saying: A PennDot spokesperson told Axios that he didn't know if Pennsylvania officials would talk with Georgia officials about any lessons learned from I-85.

  • The Georgia Department of Transportation declined to comment on any comparisons to the incidents "out of respect to our colleagues in Pennsylvania who have this situation well in hand."

The bottom line: Riley has a message for Pennsylvania officials: "It's not doom and gloom! There is hope. There is a way. Georgia is an example to follow."


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