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DOT closes Mitchell Expressway bridge, checks collision damage

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
Department of Transportation workers check out the Mitchell Expressway bridge Saturday for damage caused by a piece of equipment that slammed into the structure as it passed underneath while it was being transported along South Cushman Street Friday.

Transportation Department officials meeting today to consider whether and when to reopen overpass

Engineers are assessing the safety and condition of a Fairbanks overpass bridge after it was hit by an oversize load Friday. The Mitchell Expressway bridge remains closed this morning, and drivers are being detoured onto other streets around the structure.
The state Department of Transportation closed the bridge Friday afternoon after a piece of equipment loaded onto a trailer smacked into the concrete girders on the underside of the structure. Department spokeswoman Danielle Tessen says the impact busted-off several chunks of concrete that fell onto South Cushman Street.

“It hit it multiple times,” she said, referring to the equipment that struck the bridge, “so the impact caused concrete to fall from the bridge, and there was extensive cleanup that had to happen.”

Tessen said in an interview Sunday that DOT workers cleaned up the roadway and closed the right-hand lane of South Cushman that’s underneath the part of the bridge that was damaged. They also closed the Mitchell offramp that merges onto the Richardson Highway and detoured that traffic onto 30th Avenue until engineers can determine whether the bridge is safe to use.

“If you’re traveling on the Mitchell Expressway (and) you’re headed to North Pole,” she said, “you’re going to want to be aware of the 30th Avenue detour that you’re going to have to take.”

Thirtieth Ave turns into into a stretch of the Old Rich, which then merges with the Richardson a couple of miles to the east. Tessen said DOT engineers examined the bridge over the weekend to assess the damage, and they plan to talk about their findings today.

“Monday, we should have the assessment completed,” she said, “and we anticipate that we’ll able to know the next step.”

Meanwhile, Fairbanks police are investigating the incident. A police spokesperson said Sunday afternoon that she didn’t have much information yet and couldn’t say, for example, whether the truck driver was cited. But she said investigators have determined that the damage was caused by a piece of heavy earth-moving equipment called an excavator that was being hauled on a trailer pulled by a semi registered to NC Machinery. The spokesperson said the excavator’s arm was up too high and hadn’t been lowered enough to pass under the bridge.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.