An independent consultant will investigate the collapse of the 17th Street Bridge Canopy
A 170-foot section of the railing and fencing along the bridge came loose and crashed on the interstate below late Saturday night. The Georgia Department of Transportation suspects a bolt came loose, making the fence give way like a zipper opening. Some bolts were pulled out of the concrete. Others were sheared off.

“My first thought was, ‘Was anybody hurt?,'” said Bill Hammack, CEO of C.W. Matthews Contracting, which installed the canopy. “Whether it’s the bolts we keep hearing about, or the design load, something will come out at the end of the day.”

The Downtown Connector remains open as work continued on the bridge Monday. GDOT will also inspect the 14th Street Bridge and close traffic lanes beginning at 9:00 p.m. C.W. Matthews also built the 14th Street Bridge, but its decorative fencing is not as ornate.

A GDOT spokeswoman said motorists are not in any danger passing the 17th Street Bridge.

“It simply was the decorative fencing,” said GDOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg. “The bridge structure itself is completely sound. The integrity is intact, and the bridge is fine. We’re looking at everything to try to determine what happened.”

GDOT crews worked on the bridge all day Sunday, and through the night taking down the remaining fencing. The canopy had been designed as waves of overhanging galvanized and stainless steel. It was meant to provide shade and cover to pedestrians walking between Midtown and Atlantic Station, according to documents found on the Atlantic Station website.

“The construction is so heavily inspected every step of the way,” said Hammack. “I am extremely confident that’s no issue relative to the construction.”

The canopy’s weight is one of the items that will be examined. The other side of the bridge, is canopy free.

“It seems to be structurally sound and does not have the weight that this side had,” said Goldberg.

Emergency crews were called out to the Interstate 75/85 connector just after 11 p.m. Saturday after the section of fencing collapsed. No one was hurt in the incident.

Several drivers in the area around midnight saw it happen. They told Channel 2 Action News story after story of near misses and expressed their thankfulness to be alive.

As I pulled off the exit and was riding up the ramp parallel to the highway, I’m looking at the intersection and I literally saw the fence, the whole half of the bridge fence started collapsing like a domino onto the highway, witness Sidney Phillips said.

It’s almost like when a suspension bridge is about to fall, it just started shaking so I started breaking slowly and pumping brakes so the cars could see and we stopped one van length away from where everything started falling down, witness Reggie Lee said.

One driver said it looked as if it was raining steel. Engineers have checked out the bridge, which opened in 2004. They said it is structurally sound.

“We will find out what caused this and we will get to the bottom of it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said GDOT spokesperson Mark McKinnon.

No major delays were being reported Monday morning, but traffic reporter Mark Arum had a couple alternate routes around 17th Street.