I-65 detour brings traffic to a crawl

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 7, 2006

Northbound traffic along Interstate 65 was forced into a 15-mile detour on U.S. 31 when a newly resurfaced section began to fail on Wednesday.

But by Friday afternoon work had been completed well enough to open one lane of I-65 to travelers, bringing an end to almost two full days of heavy traffic on U.S. 31 between Georgiana and Greenville.

&#8220During the repair work we discovered some drainage problems around mile marker 120, and those problems have been corrected,” said Transportation Director Joe McInnes. &#8220Recent soil tests had given no reason to anticipate problems.”

Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said work would continue through the weekend on the failed 1,000-foot section. He said roadway inspectors first noticed the problem mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Traffic was then re-routed to U.S. 31 North, exiting at exit 114 in Georgiana and returning to I-65 at exit 128 in Greenville.

Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram said the detour put his department in a bind, with additional officers brought in to help combat the traffic. But other than heavy congestion at intersections and delays along the detour route, Ingram said there were no accidents to report or incidents of road rage.

&#8220Everybody's been pretty understanding,” he said. &#8220We've seen people stop and graciously let other people onto the roadways. But this has affected everybody. It's had a ripple effect.”

Ingram's worst fear was that I-65 would remain closed until Saturday, thereby increasing the likelihood of accidents on the Greenville Bypass where detoured traffic returned to the interstate.

&#8220That's when everybody gets out and all the activity on the bypass increases,” he said.

Traffic bottlenecked frequently at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Highway 10. On Thursday, a giant sign, along with several Greenville police officers, directed traffic towards I-65. At one point traffic backed up a mile and a half, as northbound travelers waited to turn onto Highway 10.

Patrick Bragg, of Mandeville, La., said it took him at least an hour to transverse U.S. 31 from Georgiana to Greenville. Bragg was on his way back to Auburn to school.

&#8220I didn't know this was going on,” said Bragg. &#8220I have some friends coming behind me so I called at let them know what was going on.”

McInnes said workers worked around the clock to restore traffic. Originally, ALDOT officials thought Saturday would be the latest day that I-65 could be reopened.

&#8220I want to commend APAC and their subcontractor, Wiregrass Construction, for the way they responded and worked around the clock,” McInnes said. &#8220I also want to commend our DOT employees who have been on scene around the clock with contractors, and whose skills detected the imminent lane failure on Wednesday before putting motorists at risk. The police departments in Georgiana and Greenville also deserve a pat on the back, because they showed true professionalism and commitment to serving the public by the way they safely handled the traffic detour.”

Harris said ALDOT is in negotiations with the cities of Greenville and Georgiana to reimburse their police departments for any overtime hours worked.

Resurfacing operations will continue along a 10-mile section on I-65 in Butler County until late 2006.