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MIDTOWN | "We're all accountable" says GDOT about 17th Street canopy collapse | News

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MIDTOWN | "We're all accountable" says GDOT about 17th Street canopy collapse
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ATLANTA -- Blame it on bad glue, but not on the people who designed, built, or inspected it, says Georgia's Department of Transportation.

That's the bottom line to a 5-month long independent investigation into why a 190 foot section of decorative overhang railing peeled off the south side of the 17th Street Bridge and fell into several lanes of northbound traffic on Atlanta's Downtown Connector last August 13.

11Alive's Commuter Dude John Gerard first broke the story on Thursday, which the DOT confirmed Friday.

Faulty epoxy was to culprit.

RELATED | Photo Gallery of the official investigation findings

According to the highly respected forensic investigation firm, Wiss, Janney and Elstner Associates (WJE) of Illinois, bolts held in place by the glue at the bottom of the railing supports gradually worked lose, a phenomenon known as "creeping".

Over time the stress and weight of the design caused the epoxy to give way and the railing to tip over and fall.

Inspections also showed that on some bolts the multi-part glue wasn't mixed properly or contained air pockets in some holes.

Even so, the DOT says the railing was doomed to fail eventually because the epoxy couldn't hold up.

It was a glue that everyone in the construction and transportation industry thought was fine to use when the 17th Street Bridge railing was built in 2004.

"In 2004 that was an accepted construction method," said acting DOT Commissioner Keith Golden.

"The qualities of these epoxies were not known in terms of the creeping components at that time," he said.

In an exclusive interview with 11Alive News on Friday the president of the construction company that built the railing said he was not surprised by the findings.

"I totally support the conclusions that the department came up with," Bill Hammack, Jr. of C.W. Matthews Contracting told 11Alive's Paul Crawley.

"At the time that was state of the art," he said of the epoxy.

The glue's tendency to fail became tragically apparent in 2006 when several ceiling tiles crashed down onto traffic lanes in Boston's I-90 Big Dig tunnel, killing a motorist.

Even then, Georgia's DOT said they did not suspect the glue might fail on Atlanta's 17th Street Bridge because the load of that railing was not as great as in the Boston case and was well within design safety limits.

So who's to blame?

"Accountability goes to all of us who were involved," said DOT Chief Engineer Gerald Ross, "from the construction contractor who actually put in the adhesive to the department who was responsible for inspection and acceptance of a quality product."

The DOT said no one will be charged or fined and Hammack said his company has not been hit with any legal action so far.

Everyone involved said the type of epoxy that failed is no longer used for such projects.

Meanwhile, the DOT said it will inspect many of Georgia's 15,000 bridges and other structures that may have similar epoxy to hold up railings or sings.

No other bridge in Georgia has a decorative overhang like the one that failed at 17th Street.

Another thing that everyone agrees about is that thankfully no one was killed or seriously injured in the railing failure on a Saturday night in what is probably the busiest stretch of highway in the state.

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