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State offers $3.1 million incentive to finish I-85 bridge early


The contractor rebuilding the I-85 bridge in Atlanta could earn up to $3.1 million extra for finishing the project early.

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry Wednesday announced contractor C.W. Matthews can earn an extra $1.5 million for completing the project by May 25 — three weeks earlier than the target June 15 completion date. The contractor could earn a $2 million bonus for completing it by May 21 and an extra $200,000 for each day before that, up to a total of $3.1 million.

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McMurry said everything would have to go right — including the weather — for the contractor to earn the full incentive. But he said the incentive package shows the state is “very serious about getting this road back open so people can get on with their lives.”

The incentives also show the urgency of restoring one of the major highways into the heart of the city.

Some 250,000 vehicles a day used that stretch of I-85 before a March 30 fire caused a section of the northbound lanes to collapse. Inspectors later determined 350 feet of lanes in each direction must be replaced. C.W. Matthews finished demolition of the old structure last week, and work on a replacement is under way.

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RELATED: Who is Basil Eleby, alleged bridge burner?

McMurry toured the site of the bridge collapse Wednesday with Sen. David Perdue. The commissioner said the total cost of rebuilding the bridge remains “dynamic,” and offered no price tag. But the federal government — which provided $10 million in initial funding — is expected to pay most of the cost.

On Wednesday, McMurry called the June 15 deadline “very aggressive.” But C.W. Matthews now has a big incentive to get it done as quickly as possible.

Atorod Azizinamini, chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department at Florida International University, is an expert in accelerated bridge construction. He said the June 15 timetable for I-85 is realistic. And he said GDOT’s incentives for earlier completion are not unusually large — especially when compared to the economic costs of closing the highway.

“The cost to the society is significant compared to the cost of the incentive,” Azizinamini said.

Other projects across the country have been completed in a matter of weeks. In Alabama, for example, a 413-foot overpass on I-20 reopened 45 days after a tanker truck fire destroyed an overpass in 2004. The state paid the contractor a $1.35 million bonus — $50,000 for each day the contractor beat the deadline.

In San Francisco, a similar tanker fire destroyed a major highway interchange overpass in 2007. The contractor there collected a $5 million bonus after beating the state’s 50-day deadline.

Already C.W. Matthews — working 24 hours a day, seven days a week — has restored 13 columns left over from the original I-85 bridge in Atlanta. Next Monday some of the beams needed to support the highway deck will begin arriving.

Though workers are moving fast, McMurry said quality and safety are the first priority. He said inspectors are on site round the clock to ensure the work is done well.

Azizinamini said accelerated bridge construction is safe.

“You have to be careful,” he said. “You’ve got to pay attention to the details.”

Perdue pledged to ensure there are no federal obstacles to finishing the work as quickly as possible. He also praised local emergency personnel who quickly closed the highway and cleared the area as the fire consumed it. There were no deaths in the bridge collapse.

“This was a tragedy,” Perdue said after touring the site. “But it could have been a lot worse.”

Basil Eleby, 39, has been charged with setting the fire. But others say GDOT itself bears some of the blame for the fire, which was fed by construction material the agency had stored under the bridge for years.



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