NTSB Safety Alert Concerns Protecting Bridges from Fire Damage

It is based on a collapse that occurred about 6 p.m. on March 30, 2017, in Atlanta. About an hour after long-stored construction materials under I-85 were set on fire, a 92-foot-long elevated span of I-85 collapsed.

A new NTSB Safety Alert recommends that state highway agencies remove materials from beneath bridges if they pose a risk and lock storage areas to restrict entry. It is based on the March 2017 collapse of a bridge on I-85 northeast of downtown Atlanta after construction materials beneath it -- 76 reels of high-density polyethylene conduit and nine racks of fiberglass conduit left over from an earlier project -- were set on fire. The materials were secured inside a chain-link fence, according to NTSB's accident brief about the collapse.

The fire and collapse occurred about 6 p.m. on March 30, 2017. About an hour after the fire began, a 92-foot-long elevated span of I-85 collapsed. Fortunately, no one was hurt as a result, but the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) determined that five adjacent bridge spans had to be removed because the fire's heat had damaged them. The $15 million replacement project took 43 days.

GDOT chose the location to store the unused materials because it offered shelter from the sun, was state-owned land, was fenced, and was adjacent to another GDOT facility. The materials removed in that location for more than five years, acording to NTSB, which reported that witnesses said they had seen a man start the fire, and he was subsequently arrested and charged with criminal damage to property, a first-degree felony.

The alert asks bridge owners to:

  • Evaluate materials under bridges and remove those that could pose a risk in the event of a fire.
  • Work with local law enforcement to improve bridge surveillance.
  • Lock, block, or otherwise protect bridge storage areas to restrict entry to authorized personnel only.
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