The National Transportation Safety Board says the Georgia Department of Transportation was at least partially responsible for the bridge collapse on Interstate 85 last spring – due to their decision to store construction materials beneath the bridge structure and failing to realize the risk.
The fire that caused the collapse started shortly after 6 p.m. on March 30, 2017, when the construction materials were set on fire. The NTSB more specifically points to excessive heat from the burning of 76 reels of high-density polyethylene conduit and nine racks of fiberglass conduit stored beneath the roadway.
According to a brief released on Wednesday from the NTSB, "Contributing to the bridge collapse was the decision of the Georgia Department of Transportation to store construction materials beneath the bridge and its failure to assess the increased fire risk due to the presence of these combustible materials."
In a statement, GDOT acknowledged the report and noted that they cooperated in preparing the NTSB report. They also pointed to changes the department made
"We fully participated in the preparation of this document and appreciate the NTSB’s dedication, focus and rigorous attention to detail throughout the process.
Because Georgia DOT has committed to the public to develop a policy and procedure that further safeguards our infrastructure, we are pleased that – as expected – the report provides valuable guidance from subject matter experts on how the Department can shape future policies as they relate to storage of materials around and near infrastructure.
Last year, GDOT made changes in its storage practices within hours after the bridge collapse and we remain committed to building on the changes we have already implemented, which specify no storage of flammable or combustible materials under bridges.
We are hopeful that these recommendations from the NTSB will be instrumental for other relevant agencies and Departments of Transportation across the country to prevent instances like this from happening elsewhere."
I-85 COLLAPSE & AFTERMATH COVERAGE
- Day One: I-85 closed after fire, partial collapse
- Gov. Deal declares state of emergency
- Day Two: 12 hours later, bridge still smoldering
- Day Three: Bridge fire suspect charged with arson; Midtown streets clogged
- Man allegedly behind I-85 collapse described as quiet, helpful
- Day Four: Monday morning rush hour looms large
- What was burning under I-85?
- Pedestrians feel road blocks, too
- A secret, illegal skate park was built under I-85, just yards from the collapse
- Secret skate park under I-85 stayed unnoticed, but not unknown
- Noise from the I-85 repair jarring neighbors
- I-85 suspect said to have 'mental capacity of 15-year-old
- Lawyers for Basil Eleby say blaming him is wrong | 'Railroading on steroids'
- A look back at the I-85 collapse
The materials were left over from a project and secured behind a chain link fence. A Google Maps analysis of the site shows a solid path worn around the edge of the fence, leading right under the bridge.
Basil Eleby was charged with starting the fire, but he has always maintained his innocence. His attorney says criminal proceedings have stopped – after Eleby agreed to undergo an 18-month drug treatment program.
So what real weight does the NTSB report carry? The Federal Highway Administration is using it as a warning to other states not to store material like this under bridges.