As question swirl, DOT breaks down Glenn Hwy. overpass repair process
As questions swirl about the future of the overpass at the South Eagle River exit on the Glenn Highway, a Dept. of Transportation representative spoke Tuesday on its future, which primarily includes a whole lot of unknowns.
Despite that, the debacle with the overpass at the South Eagle River exit isn't an entirely new situation for the State of Alaska DOT, which dealt with a similar incident a few years back when highway lanes were closed following another semi-truck's collision with a bridge at Eklutna.
Here's where the DOT and the future of the overpass in Eagle River stand now.
First off, the estimate for the full repair was something like $1.8 million. Gov. Walker mentioned the source of funding for repairs hasn't yet been determined. When will that be figured out?
Once we have this kind of damage and have to close down lanes and do some emergency work, we ask for emergency funding. It can take weeks and months to work out funding. We either have to see if we have match monies around, or we have to ask for an appropriation from the legislature. So [there's] a wide variety of ways to fund it.
What do we know thus far about the citation from this past weekend?
When you have an over-height or overweight load, you call in to our commercial vehicle hotline center. They will talk to you about the height of your load, and what route you can take. If you have a load that's 17 feet or shorter, there is a logical path folks will help you with. If it's over 17 feet, it gets a little bit more complicated, because there are very few bridges that can really take a load that high. And you're actually required to travel with a pilot car that has, essentially, a stick that measures in front of the high load. This load was permitted for 17 feet. I don't know what the reasoning was or what happened, but it was close to 19 feet.
What about the citation itself, which was for failure to follow conditions of the permit? We're told the charge isn't criminal, but will be tried in court.
We forward the information to the Alaska Court System here in Anchorage, and then it becomes a matter for the court to decide. A Superior Court judge will make a decision based on all the extenuating circumstances that we (at DOT) are not necessarily actually privy to. [There's] a wide variety of punishments that could happen - potentially commercial driver license revocation - but it just depends on the circumstances.
The last time we saw something like this was back when the Eklutna bridge was hit in 2010, correct?
Each situation is a little bit different, but we've had a lot of bridge strikes. Eklutna had been struck twice. We had some damage there and we had to replace the girder. We had a lane restriction in that area and it took a while because we didn't have to go to an emergency procurement. The girder was intact and still had all the strength, so we were able to take that time, go through the design and a longer procurement process.
But this bridge required at least some type of repair almost immediately, and the full repair hasn't yet been made. What's the risk, should someone hit it again?
We really don't want people to hit the bridge again! But once the bridge is safe, we have time to weigh the pros and cons of different plans, and then we can begin work. We have bridge strikes all the time. I hate to say that, but it's true. So bridges in general are designed with some redundancies in place. And the reason why is because bridges are critical pieces of infrastructure. If a bridge is not designed that way and we did have a large earthquake or, say, a large load that hit multiple girders, then we would have to close the bridge. We don't want that.
We talked about the timeline for funding this, but is there a projected schedule in place for the actual repair of the bridge at the South Eagle River overpass?
It could be months or years. It's too early to tell. When we decide to fix it, obviously we're going to really think carefully about how traffic is going to be impacted, because the Glenn Hwy. is super sensitive to anything we do. When we do potholes or paving or close a lane down for any reason, it can cause a lot of congestion behind whatever is causing the delay or slowdown. So we try to do most of our work on the Glenn Hwy. at night if possible, and we also try to stay off the Glenn Hwy. if possible during fair time, or any kind of time where we have lots of traffic going back and forth.
And will that be a full closure?
I believe so. There's no way to suspend a girder that weighs that much over traffic (safely). That's just not possible. We're going to keep the gate (to the temporary ramp) closed - obviously we don't want people to be on there if they can use the two lanes of the southbound - but we will leave that in in case we have any issues.
The southbound lanes of the Glenn Hwy. at the South Eagle River exit were reopened late Sunday, March 25.