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DOT reopens Mitchell Expressway ramp onto Richardson Highway

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
The state Department of Transportation reopened the Mitchell Expressway bridge Friday by routing eastbound motorists on the Mitchell into the left lane as they approach the right-lane closure directly over the damaged bridge. The eastbound traffic is then able to merge back into the right lane as they approach the ramp that leads to the Richardson Highway.

Engineers reroute detoured traffic around closed lane on damaged bridge that leads to Richardson Highway

The state Department of Transportation gave Fairbanks drivers an early Christmas present last week when it reopened the ramp that connects the Mitchell Expressway and the Richardson Highway on the city’s east side.

The ramp was closed Dec. 10 after the bridge it’s connected to was struck by a piece of heavy equipment. DOT officials initially said the bridge would remain closed 'til next summer, when it can be repaired. But engineers figured out a way to allow traffic to flow around the damaged bridge.

DOT workers reopened the ramp Thursday night after they set up signs slowing traffic to 35 mph and barricades to squeeze eastbound traffic on the Mitchell into the left lane. Then, when vehicles pass by the barricaded lane closure over the damaged bridge, they can merge into right lane and proceed down the ramp and onto the Richardson. Or stay in the left lane to get to the Steese Expressway.

“So, you are going to need to slow down,” says DOT spokesperson Caitlin Frye says. “But you can continue on in the left lane, and then take either the Richardson Highway ramp, or the Steese Expressway ramp.”

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
DOT closed a lane on South Cushman Street directly under the damaged section of the overpass bridge, but the on-ramp to the Steese Expressway just past the closed lane remains open.

DOT initially just closed the ramp along with the bridge after it was damaged. But Frye says after a few days of analysis, traffic engineers determined there’s enough room just past the closed lane above the bridge to allow vehicles, including big rigs, to get back into the right lane and onto the Richardson ramp.

“The questions that we needed to answer before we opened it back up were not only can a regular passenger vehicle get back into the right lane after the bridge, but also can a big double tanker make that turn as well?”

Frye says if motorists would prefer to avoid the slow traffic on that part of the Mitchell, they could take the detour onto 30th Avenue and the Old Rich that DOT set up week before last. And she says a short stretch of South Cushman Street directly under the bridge also will remain closed until the structure can be fixed.

“We are expecting that the traffic pattern that’s in place right now is going to be in place for the rest of the winter, until we can make permanent repairs to the bridge this spring or summer,” she said.

Meanwhile, a Fairbanks Police spokesperson says the officer who responded to the bridge strike hasn’t completed a report on the incident. And, contrary to a statement police made last week, the investigation has not been handed over yet to the state Commercial Vehicle Compliance Division. The spokesperson also says no citations have been issued to the driver who was hauling the heavy equipment that struck 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.