Walt Stephens Bridge opens following repairs

By Paul Frysh

The Walt Stephens Bridge, which crosses Interstate 75 near Stockbridge, opened Friday afternoon following weeks of repairs needed after a tractor trailer collided with the bridge last month.

David Coleman, the Georgia Department of Transportation engineer for the area, said earlier in the week that the repairs were completed but that it was necessary to wait for the concrete to properly cure. “We do appreciate everyone being patient with us as we try to get this done,” said Coleman who pointed out that colder temperatures can slow down the curing process. Tests on Friday showed that the concrete was finally hard enough and the bridge opened early Friday afternoon.

The opening was a big relief to parents of students at Red Oak Elementary School near the bridge, according to Janice Brankel who works at the school. “One of our volunteers called the DOT this morning and asked them to call us as soon as it was open,” said Brankel. Traffic had regularly backed up from the school to as far as the intersection of Walt Stephens and Spear road (which changes name to Blackhall). “The traffic complicated our ability to have a normal morning routine,” said school principal Mike Hightower.

The Henry County DOT called the school to confirm the opening around 1:30 p.m., just in time for parents who were coming to pick up their children from school. “I think I can speak for the whole community when I say that we will never take that bridge for granted again,” said Hightower. Word about the opening spread very quickly among parents and school employees on Friday.

The bridge was damaged Oct. 25 when a tractor-trailer driven by 62-year-old John T. Herman of Enon, Ohio, slammed into a support column on the right shoulder of I-75 north. Mr. Herman was killed in the accident and authorities are waiting for the full medical examiners and toxicology report before making any final assessment, according to Lieutenant Jason Bolton of the Henry County Police Department. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Herman had to swerve or brake before his tractor-trailer hit the bridge, said Bolton.

Work will continue on the concrete side barriers under the bridge which attach to the guard rail along I-75, but this will have no effect on the use or structural soundness of the bridge.