Girder collapses on vehicle, kills family

A family of three was killed May 15 when a 40-ton bridge girder fell from an overpass that was under construction on Interstate 70 in Colorado.

The 100-foot-long girder, which had been installed four days earlier, buckled and fell onto the family’s Dodge Durango, ripping off the top half of the vehicle. The bottom half of the SUV continued traveling another quarter-mile until it crashed into the median. Eastbound I-70 was closed for more than 16 hours for accident investigation, clean up and removal of the girder.

“Something went terribly wrong,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Stacey Stegman told the Denver Post.

The girder’s collapse was Colorado’s worst highway-construction accident in over 17 years.

According to CDOT engineers, girders like the one installed on the I-70 bridge are basically unstable until the final bridge deck is installed. To stabilize single girders during construction, they are usually braced onto other new girders or a crane is used for addition support. The girder that collapsed was temporarily braced to the existing bridge with five metal bars spaced along the girder’s length. The bracings, fastened to the bridge with 8- to 10-inch bolts, became twisted and broke when the girder collapsed. State officials currently have no explanation for why the girder failed.

CDOT is currently investigating the exact cause of the collapse, and whether it needs to strengthen its supervision of contractors. The transportation agency said it would not have inspected the girder placement before the collapse, and the contractor was responsible for correctly installing and bracing the girder.

Neither the project’s contractor, Asphalt Specialties Co. of Henderson, Colo., nor the subcontractor for girder installation, Ridge Erection Co. of Arvada, Colo., have ever had any major jobsite accidents before, and had a “good track record,” according to the CDOT.

“Everyone at CDOT feels terrible as do the contractor and subcontractor on the project,” Stegman said in a public statement. “This is a horrible tragedy and it’s one that we never want to experience again.”

Because the girder collapsed onto an interstate, the National Transportation Safety Board also launched an investigation in cooperation with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado State Patrol and the Federal Highway Administration.