Replacing the Mount Vernon Highway bridge over I-285 is part of the I-285 Westbound Auxiliary Lane Extension project in Sandy Springs.Above, GDOT contractor workers drill for bridge columns in the project. (GDOT/Facebook)

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will accelerate construction of the new Mount Vernon Highway bridge, but it still will take many months to complete.

The existing bridge over I-285 was closed after a tractor-trailer hit a support column on Sept. 27. An inspection by GDOT showed it was too heavily damaged to reopen.

“We had a truck driver who took a million-dollar piece of equipment, turned it into a battering ram, and we’re left to pay the consequences for a while,” Paul said during the Oct. 3 city council meeting.

Repairing the old bridge wasn’t an option because it would take six months to fabricate the steel at a cost of $3 million. And then three months later it would be torn down as its replacement is completed.

“The best option is to accelerate construction of the bridge that was already under construction to the east of the current bridge,” Paul said.

The mayor said he was told by GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry delivery of the steel beams were key to fast-tracking the project.

Moving three water lines that run under the old bridge to the new one will also present a challenge, Paul said.

Even with the acceleration, challenges with the supply chain remain, Paul said. Crews won’t be able to construct the new bridge as fast as repairs were made to the I-85 bridge that collapsed after a fire in 2017.

“They [GDOT] understand that this is a major arterial that carries a tremendous amount of traffic and that has had to be shifted to other roads such as River Valley, Heards Ferry, and Abernathy, which are experiencing unprecedented levels of congestion as a result,” Paul said.

Trying to drive in the area around Riverwood High and Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Schools will be challenging for months, he warned.

Paul said the best thing parents can do to take pressure off the roads is to put their students onto school buses. If that’s not an option, multifamily carpools can help, he said.

Paul said his own 3-mile commute to city hall used to take seven minutes but is “now a 30-minute trip under the best of conditions.”

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.