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DOT closes Mitchell Expy bridge to repair earthmover impact damage

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
The state Department of Transportation has temporarily closed the Mitchell Expressway bridge and the two off-ramps that connect to the Richardson Highway and Steese Expressway, as well as a portion of South Cushman Street under the bridge.

Commuters and other drivers who use the Mitchell Expressway bridge get onto the eastbound Richardson Highway or northbound Steese Expressway will have to find an alternate route for the next few weeks. That’s because DOT crews closed the bridge Sunday so contractors can repair damage caused by an oversized load that slammed into the structure in December.

“Pretty much for the rest of the month is what we’re looking at for the Mitchell Expressway outbound towards North Pole,” says Project Manager Lauren Little. “And then Cushman Street underneath the bridge -- that’ll be for the majority of the month.”

Little said in an interview Sunday that DOT also closed a portion of South Cushman Street underneath the bridge and a ramp just to the north that leads from South Cushman to the Steese. And she says the department will soon close another ramp that leads from the Richardson to the Mitchell.

“Towards the end of the month, we will have to fully close the Mitchell bridge over Cushman,” she said. “So, traffic coming in from North Pole onto the Mitchell will have to detour around for roughly 10 days, as we do the girder repairs.”

The girders are part the structure that supports the bridge. And they were damaged when a truck and trailer hauling a piece of heavy earth-moving equipment slammed into the underside of the bridge on Dec. 10. A Fairbanks police investigator said the arm of the excavator – the part with a bucket on the end that does the digging – hadn’t
been lowered enough to pass underneath the bridge.

“Those girders, y’know they got hit pretty all the way across,” she said, “and the three southern ones were damaged so much that you just got to pull the girders out and replace them.”

Fairbanks Police didn’t issue a citation to the driver of the truck, which was registered to NC Machinery, a Fairbanks heavy equipment sales and service company.

But the Transportation Department filed a claim with the company’s insurer to reimburse the state to pay for the repairs. Little says the project is estimated to cost $1.2 million.