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Mitchell Expressway bridge to remain closed until summer

DOT Northern Region Bridge Foreman Fred Paulsen checks out a big crack during an inspection of the Mitchell Expressway bridge on Saturday.
Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
DOT Northern Region Bridge Foreman Fred Paulsen checks out a big crack during an inspection of the Mitchell Expressway bridge on Saturday.

‘Significant damage’ repairs must wait ‘til weather warms

The Mitchell Expressway bridge will remain closed until it can be repaired this summer. That’s what state Department of Transportation officials decided Monday after DOT engineers took a close look at the bridge, which they say was seriously damaged last week when it was struck by a piece of heavy equipment.

The engineers found among other things a crack in one of the bridge’s beams big enough to stick their fingers into. They also found other cracks and broken edges on a girder next to the beam. DOT spokesperson Caitlin Frye summarized those and other findings into plain English:

“There was significant damage to the bridge,” she said in an interview Monday.

Because of that, Frye says DOT officials will continue to detour traffic around the bridge until they can get it fixed.

“We’re going to have to keep some lane closures in place throughout the winter until we can make permanent repairs on the bridge, which we expect is going to happen this spring or this summer,” she said.

Frye said in an interview Monday that DOT officials are working on plans to divert eastbound traffic off the Mitchell in way that will be similar to the detour they set up last Friday, after a piece of heavy equipment loaded onto a trailer smacked into the underside of the bridge.

“And it’s going to look a little bit different than what you see out there right now,” she said.

Frye says DOT will try to come up with a more direct route for eastbound motorists trying to get from the Mitchell onto the Richardson Highway. Right now, that traffic is diverted off the Mitchell and onto 30th Avenue and the Old Rich, which merges into the Richardson Highway just east of Lakeview Terrace RV Park. She says DOT wants to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible – which, she adds, is the agency’s second-highest priority.

“Our Number 1 priority is ensuring the safety of the traveling public,” she said.

DOT also will keep a short stretch of the right lane of South Cushman Street directly under the bridge closed until it’s repaired, she said, “But the left lane will continue to stay open, so people will be able to get around.”

Frye says DOT hopes to complete work on the detours by the end of the week. She says the agency will lay out the plan on its Facebook page and summarized on the website.

Meanwhile, a Fairbanks Police spokesperson says the department has handed over its investigation into the bridge strike to the state Commercial Vehicle Compliance Division, an agency under the DOT.

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.