The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to have the Interstate 85 bridge near Piedmont Road in Atlanta rebuilt by June 15, its leaders said.

“At the governor’s urging, we are going to incentivize the completion of this work,” GDOT Director of Construction Marc Mastronardi said. “We have selected a date that we believe is aggressive but attainable and will offer a bonus for early completion.

“We understand there is a great desire to know cost and time estimates. For time, we expect the work to be completed in roughly 10 weeks, or June 15. We expect the contractor to complete their estimate by week’s end and for us to reach a negotiated agreement approved by our (Federal Highway Administration) partners early next week. At that time we can share the details with you all.”

GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle said the bridge, built in 1984 and last inspected in August 2015, will be rebuilt by Marietta-based C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. Inc., the winning bidder.

“The final plans were submitted to the contractor by midnight Sunday night," she said. "We are using accelerated 24-hour drying concrete. This is an expensive product not used in normal construction (jobs). The size and complexity of this site (are) very challenging.”

Pirkle, Mastronardi and other GDOT representatives spoke on a number of topics regarding the March 30 bridge fire and collapse at a news conference April 4 at its headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for the area, encouraging residents to avoid it and even telecommute.

State and Atlanta officials Friday secured $10 million in federal funds from the federal government to help pay to replace the bridge and are using all the federal and state financial and legislative aid possible, officials have said.

Mastronardi said the state is working to complete the demolition of the old bridge so it can move on with building the new ones.

“We’re 80 to 85 percent complete with the demolition activity and we expect it to be complete tomorrow,” he said.

C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. Inc. has won the bid for the bridge rebuild.

No laws broken

Despite media reports stating GDOT may have violated state law in how it stored the high-density fiberglass conduit materials that exacerbated the fire that caused the bridge near to collapse, McMurry said the storage was legal.

“Upon review we found we are not in violation of any policy,” he said.

District 10 Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin, chairman of its transportation committee, is calling for an independent investigation into the particulars surrounding the fire, questioning why highly combustible materials were stored under a major artery without adequate sprinkler protection or any other fire hazard precautions.

McMurry said the materials stored under 85 were purchased by GDOT as part of a project Smyrna-based TDC Systems Integration won the bid for in 2007 to install camera equipment along Georgia 400 from 85 north to 285 for its advanced traffic management system.

“The contractor was placed in default and there was a work stoppage,” he said. “Georgia DOT had already paid for this material, so therefore we took possession of it when the project stopped. Originally it was placed (near) Buford Highway somewhere around December 2009, and then when the … 400 project to install dual ramps to complete the interchange with 85 was started, the material was moved to its current location on Piedmont Road. That was some time in 2011."

McMurry said GDOT is cooperating with fire investigators on the case.

“We’re not in position to comment on certain aspects of the investigation. … In an effort to save taxpayer dollars, Georgia DOT chose to store the materials in safe place,” he said. “It had a locked gate and was in a place where there were ‘No Trespassing’ signs. The area was breached by individuals who trespassed onto state property and it led to a devastating outcome. We’re told by fire officials that the conduit substance was spread into the property. We are actively working with investigators, and we look forward to the final report. … We’re working with state DOTs across the nation so they’re aware of this issue so they can … make this a learning opportunity for the nation.”

McMurry also said GDOT has already communicated with its staff across the state to make sure all materials are properly stored, especially those under highway bridges.

He said federal officials have helped expedite the process to rebuild the bridge by cutting out several steps.

Traffic elsewhere on rise

Andrew Heath, GDOT’s state traffic engineer, said the agency is using all of its cameras and messages signs to monitor traffic and make adjustments.

“We’ve already seen a dramatic shift in traffic patterns in metro Atlanta,” he said. “On I-85 and the Downtown Connector, we’ve seen a decrease in traffic by 40 to 70 percent. In comparison, I-85 and 75 have seen increases of 50 to 70 percent.

“Some roads have seen double their normal amounts of traffic. Cheshire Bridge Road, which normally sees 18,000 vehicles per day, is now seeing 40,000. Peachtree Street, which was seeing just under 40,000 vehicles per day, now has 85,000.”

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