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I-16 bridge struck by tractor-trailer; repairs to take months

A tractor-trailer hauling a large piece of equipment badly damaged an overpass on Interstate 16 West at Exit 49 on Tuesday morning, causing major damage to the bridge and forcing traffic to be diverted, officials with the Georgia State Patrol said.

Large chunks of concrete and rebar covered all of the westbound lanes, and officials said it likely will be months before all the bridge damage is repaired.

A two-mile stretch of westbound interstate in Laurens County — from Exit 51 to Exit 49 — likely will be closed through the end of the week, they said.

No injuries were reported in Tuesday’s accident, and the only vehicle to sustain any damage was the tractor-trailer, officials said.

State trooper Ronnie Shuemake said the tractor-trailer was too tall to travel under the overpass. The boom of a track hoe struck the bridge as the driver of the truck, John F. Crowe, drove under it with the boom elevated, he said.

The tractor-trailer belongs to Bates Transport of Dublin, Shuemake said. Attempts to reach the company Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the damage to the bridge was still being assessed Tuesday afternoon, but she said it was extensive.

“I don’t see us opening the lanes before the end of the week,” she said. “There’s a fair amount of damage.”

Paulk-Buchanan said that with the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend, drivers can expect to see delays near the exit. Drivers can get the latest information about statewide traffic patterns from www.georgianavigator.com.

The tractor-trailer ripped out chunks of the bridge that fell along the interstate. Paulk-Buchanan said the interstate itself would have to be checked for damage once the large pieces of concrete are removed.

Westbound I-16 traffic is being diverted at Exit 51, where drivers will have to take Ga. 257 to get back onto I-16, she said. Though the overpass, which was opened in 2007, sustained extensive damage, two of the five lanes across are still usable, which allows drivers to bypass the damaged area of I-16.

“It’s a new bridge, too,” said Maj. Keith Golden of the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. “We were proud to get that bridge. It’s so heavily damaged, it will likely be a long time before it’s repaired.”

Because the bridge had specially pre-cast beams supporting it, it will take “several months” to repair the overpass fully, Paulk-Buchanan said. She said the section of I-16 would be open before then, sometime at the end of the week, but repair crews need to make sure the underside of the bridge is stable before any automobiles can pass under it. Tuesday, several beams of rebar hung from underneath the bridge.

Shuemake said the case is still under investigation, and no charges have been filed.

Telegraph staff writers Travis Fain, Liz Fabian and Jason Vorhees contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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