In a textbook case of under-promising and over-delivering, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced Friday that I-16 had reopened in both directions, days earlier than expected after the removal of a damaged overpass bridge.
Both westbound lanes of I-16 were reopened to traffic just after 5 p.m. Friday, followed by both eastbound lanes only a few hours later, according to GDOT. The overpass bridge at Ga. 86 in Treutlen County was damaged early Thursday morning when it was hit by a truck, shifting it from its supports and leaving tons of concrete dangerously suspended above the busy interstate.
“I really wanted to come down and see the progress, but also just thank this great team,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a news conference from the site of the bridge demolition Friday afternoon. “Obviously we’ve got a robust state response, but also have had great support from the locals.”
Seven miles of I-16 between Macon and Savannah were closed beginning early Thursday morning, when a big rig hauling a dump trailer in its lifted position slammed into the Ga. 86 overpass, shifting the center of the bridge several feet and threatening cars passing below. The cab of the truck detached after the trailer hit the bridge, sending it across the median and into the woods on the opposite side of the interstate. No one was hurt in the crash.
Authorities worked through the night to remove the damaged bridge and began hauling away debris Friday morning. Restoring westbound traffic from the busy Port of Savannah was GDOT’s first priority.
The interstate is the main thoroughfare between metro Atlanta and Georgia’s coast, heavily trafficked by both tourists headed to the beach and trucks moving goods to and from the Port of Savannah. About 21,000 vehicles travel the stretch of highway each day, according to GDOT.
“We know everyone is chomping at the bit to get back on their normal route, but there is a lot of work to be done and we’ve got to make sure it’s safe,” GDOT communications officer Kyle Collins said earlier Friday from the work zone.
The circumstances around the wreck are still under investigation. According to the Georgia State Patrol, the bridge was hit about 1 a.m. Thursday. The impact dislodged the center of the bridge from its concrete base and shifted it nearly 6 feet.
Traffic investigators have not determined why the trailer lifted, GSP spokesman Lt. Mark Riley said. The driver told troopers that a malfunction caused the trailer to tilt upward, according to a crash report obtained by the AJC, but no further details about the malfunction were included.
At a news conference Friday, a GSP spokesman said charges for the driver were expected and that the driver’s commercial license would be reviewed. The driver was cited for an expired license, according to the crash report.
GDOT officials said there were no structural issues with the overpass bridge itself, which was built in 1974 and last inspected in August 2019. Its clearance was 16 feet, and the dump trailer hit at 17 feet, GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“No bridge can be built to withstand an impact like this one — it’s not what they are designed and constructed to do,” she said in an emailed response. “Consider the velocity and force of the impact of a vehicle weighing several tons at a particular rate of speed. The damage to the bridge shows the force of that impact.”
There is currently no timeline for replacing the Ga. 86 overpass bridge, according to a GDOT news release.
The closure between exits 71 and 78 required detours on either side of I-16 and sent an unusually high volume of traffic through the rural communities of Soperton and Adrian.
Congestion through Soperton was at its worst Thursday night, and city manager Thomas Shepard said “a steady stream” of cargo trucks and travelers continued to clog up the city’s three main corridors Friday morning.
“We knew it was going to be a strain on the cities of Soperton and Adrian from a traffic standpoint,” Kemp said during Friday’s news conference. “I want to thank ... the local first responders for working on the traffic issues.”
Kemp visited the scene by helicopter Friday afternoon, thanking workers and praising both the public and private organizations involved in the bridge removal.
— Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this article.