Under Pressure: Bridge disasters, tragedies and recovery

Interstate 85, one of the main arteries connecting several states to the heart of the city of Atlanta, isn’t the first bridge to catch fire and collapse. And while local and state authorities are touting months to repair this bridge, nationally, the wait time has been swift.  

More than 1600 bridges are functionally obsolete.

ATLANTA – Interstate 85, one of the main arteries connecting several states to the heart of the city of Atlanta, isn’t the first bridge to catch fire and collapse. And while local and state authorities are touting months to repair this bridge, nationally, the wait time has been swift.

Over the 20 years, five bridges have collapsed or have been severely damaged due to intense heat of a fire.

In 1989 a section of I-78 in Newark, N.J., sunk several inches after a garbage truck caught fire igniting a recycling center allowed to operate under the bridge.

In 2004, a truck filled with heating oil ignited on I-95–the main thoroughfare between New York and Boston causing a 100-foot section to be demolished and rebuilt. While the work took several months to complete, crews were able to open a temporary bridge in one week.

Perhaps the most impressive bridge repairs were in Alabama and California. 

In 2002, a bridge along a major interchange in Birmingham, Ala.—like Atlanta’s Spaghetti Junction—collapsed after a gasoline tanker exploded.

The 289-feet span on I-65 was removed, improved and rebuilt in 37 days—seven weeks ahead of schedule thanks to an incentive of $25,000 a day for each day it was finished ahead of schedule.

In 2004, another crash destroyed a different bridge in the same intersection. Repairs were made in less than 40 construction days, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). It opened 28 days ahead of schedule and cost $5.5 million to repair. Crews were paid a $1.35 million bonus for early completion.

"The rapid replacement process was the result of a team effort by ALDOT, local officials, the Federal Highway Administration and our contractors," ALDOT said in a statement.

ALDOT said that has offered assistance to the Georgia Department of Transportation. 

In 2007, a gasoline tanker exploded destroying two ramps in one of the most heavily traveled interchanges in the San Francisco area. In less than one month, both were repaired or rebuilt and back open. They did it by increasing the number of workers, working around the clock and scheduling jobs simultaneously. It didn’t hurt that for every day the project finished early, the state awarded the company $200,000.

While, I-85’s collapse and fire did not injure or kill anyone, the country's most notorious interstate and bridge disasters over the last century have killed more than 300 people, including 10 who died on the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick, Ga.

Silver Bridge
Point Pleasant, W.V. and Gallipolis, Ohio
Dec. 15, 1967
46 killed, 9 injured

Sidney Lanier Bridge
Brunswick, Ga.
Nov. 7, 1972
10 killed

Hyatt Regency walkway 
Kansas City, Mo.
July 17, 1981
114 killed, 200 injured

Cline Avenue over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal 
East Chicago, Ind.
April 15, 1982
14 killed, 16 injured

Mianus River Bridge
Greenwich, Conn.
June 28, 1983
3 killed, 5 injured

Schoharie Creek Bridge / Thruway Bridge
Fort Hunter, N.Y.
April 5, 1987
10 killed, unknown injured

Tennessee Hatchie River Bridge
Between Covington, Tennessee and Henning, Tennessee
April 1, 1989
8 killed

Cypress Street Viaduct
Oakland, Calif.
Oct. 17, 1989
42 killed

San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge
Oakland, Calif.
Oct. 17, 1989
1 killed

Swinging Bridge
Heber Springs, Ark.
Oct. 28, 1989
5 killed

Claiborne Avenue Bridge
New Orleans, La.
May 28, 1993
1 killed, 2 injured

CSXT Big Bayou Canot Rail Bridge
Mobile, Ala.
Sept. 22, 1993
47 killed, 103 injured

I-5 Bridge
Coalinga, Calif.
March 10, 1995
7 killed

Queen Isabella Causeway
Port Isabel, Texas and South Padre Island, Texas
Sept. 15, 2001
8 killed

I-40 Bridge 
Webbers Falls, Okla.
May 26, 2002
14 killed

C-470 overpass over I-70
Golden, Colo.
May 15, 2004
3 killed

I-35 W Bridge over the Mississippi River
Minneapolis, Minn.
Aug. 1, 2007
13 killed, 145 injured

Hopple Street Overpass over southbound I-75
Cincinnati, Ohio
Jan. 19, 2015
1 killed

Major freeway bridge collapses in Minneapolis during rush hour
The I-35 W bridge collapsed Aug. 6, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minn. The job of removing debris and destroyed cars, the cost was estimated to be $15 million. Five were confirmed dead. 

I-5 Bridge collapses on Skagit River in Washington
A bridge collapsed on Interstate 5 on May 23, 2013 near Mt. Vernon, Wash., which connects Seattle to Vancouver B.C., Canada. No deaths have been reported, and three people were taken to hospitals with injuries. 

 

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