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CDOT: Anytime you have a bridge, something like the Atlanta collapse can happen

March 31, 2017 Updated: April 1, 2017 at 10:48 am
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Construction crews work on a section of an overpass that collapsed from a large fire on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Friday, March 31, 2017. Atlanta's dreadful rush-hour traffic got even worse Friday, the morning after a raging fire underneath Interstate 85 collapsed an elevated portion of the highway and shut down the heavily traveled route through the heart of the city. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The shocking images of a massive fire causing the collapse Thursday of a heavily traveled Interstate 85 overpass in Atlanta had Coloradans wondering if the same thing could happen here.

"As our chief engineer (Josh Laipply) said, 'Anytime you have a bridge, something like that can happen,'" Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said Friday.

But Coloradans can take heart in one key difference between spans in the two states.

The overpass in Atlanta collapsed after a pile of PVC pipe, stored beneath it for more than a decade, caught fire.

In Colorado, "We cannot store anything under bridges, in general," Wilson said.

Colorado's 3,429 bridges get inspected every two years at a minimum, he said, thanks to FASTER fees paid with every vehicle registration.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter created the fund after an Interstate 35 bridge collapsed at the height of rush hour in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring 145.

FASTER funds go primarily to bridges, Wilson said.

"As states go, we're in the top third for our bridge construction," he said.

CDOT inspects bridges as they're being built to ensure that they're designed to the standard set by the American Association of State Transportation Officials.

"They build bridges now to last 50 to 100 years, and they need to construct a bridge for any eventuality," Wilson said. "Two or three times in a bridge's lifetime, you may get a massive military truck carrying missiles. You have to build a bridge to be ready for any eventuality like that."

Still, anything can happen. Wilson recalled how two locomotives crashed head-on beneath a U.S. 36 bridge between Denver and Boulder in August 1985.

Fire from the resulting explosion melted the bridge. The only deaths were of the two train engineers.

Colorado's bridges date from the 1911 span over the Platte River on Alameda Avenue in Denver to the 2016 Fillmore Bridge at Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs, Wilson said.

Older bridges get inspected more frequently.

"More bridges have been replaced in southeast Colorado than any other part of the state," Wilson said. "There are a lot of old timber bridges on highways there that have been replaced."

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