The Georgia Department of Transportation is determining whether to repair or to replace the damaged support beams on the Interstate 95 overpass at exit 87 in Richmond Hill, according to a GDOT spokeswoman.
The contract for the project could be finalized as soon as Thursday, said GDOT District Communications Officer Jill Nagel. Once the work begins, “intermittent lane closures” will be necessary, she said.
Meanwhile, the right lane of northbound Highway 17 at the I-95 interchange remains closed, reducing traffic to one lane traveling under the overpass.
“That lane will be closed for, I would say, the next three to four weeks,” Nagel said.
Nine support beams were damaged when a tractor-trailer hit the overpass last Thursday, according to Nagel. The excavator that was loaded on the driver’s flatbed trailer was too high to clear the overpass and became wedged underneath it on northbound Highway 17.
“He did some damage to the bridge,” Nagel said.
Exit 87 was shut down as GDOT officials assessed the damage to the overpass. The exit reopened about 11 hours after the wreck, but the deceleration lane of I-95 south at exit 87 will remain closed until the beams are repaired or replaced, according to Nagel.
Crews installed temporary support columns for the damaged overpass on Friday. The support structures are made of compressed wood and are strong enough to “hold the weight of an excavator in a wetland,” Nagel said.
“They’re not actually holding up the bridge,” she said. “It’s proactive to make sure the beams don’t move.”
Though the only lane closure — for now — is the short stretch of Highway 17 north from the traffic light at the exit 87 off-ramp to the I-95 overpass, it is enough to cause some congestion and delays.
GDOT suggests taking alternate routes:
• Traveling on I-95 south, take exit 90 to eastbound Highway 144 to southbound Highway 17.
• Traveling on northbound Highway 17, take Highway 144 west to I-95.
“If you do use U.S. 17, expect delays for an extended period of time,” Richmond Hill Police Chief Billy Reynolds said.
No one was injured in the wreck. The driver was cited with “several charges,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds pointed out that bridges have posted height limits. The driver had a permit to haul the excavator, according to Reynolds, but the height of his load apparently was listed incorrectly.
“I can only remember one other time that this bridge has been struck in 30-plus years,” Reynolds said. “He just happened to come through here with his boom too high on the transport.”
The overpass repairs will be made as quickly as possible, Nagel said, but lane closings and traffic delays will be unavoidable while the work is being done.
However, she added, drivers do not need to be worried about traveling on the section of I-95 that is damaged underneath.
“We would not have traffic on it if it wasn’t safe,” Nagel said.