GREENSBORO — The good news is that contractors are making really great strides fixing the Interstate 73 bridge damaged late last year in a fiery tanker wreck.

The less positive angle, at least for the time being?

Repair crews have reached the point where they must close the entire southbound bridge for about five weeks.

The closure starts Saturday morning at 7 and is expected to last until April 19, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Aaron Moody.

“They’re planning to jack up the south end of the bridge and replace the bearings,” Moody said, adding that the restoration work also will include repairing other structural elements, the driving surface and a concrete barrier wall.

Traffic heading south on I-73 will be detoured onto Business 85 North and rerouted to U.S. 220 South, Moody said. Another option for motorists includes taking Interstate 40 East more directly to U.S. 220 South, he said.

The bridge sustained heavy damage in mid-December when the driver of a tanker truck lost control because he was traveling too fast and the fuel truck caught fire.

The driver escaped before the tanker burst into flames, fed by its cargo of 8,500 gallons of fuel bound for Asheboro. Not seriously injured, he was cited by the state Highway Patrol for exceeding a safe speed.

Flatiron Constructors is making the repairs to the bridge on an accelerated schedule at a projected cost of $3.9 million, Moody said.

He noted that “punch list” items likely would keep Flatiron at work on the bridge through May 10, but that the southbound lanes are scheduled to reopen for motorists April 19.

Moody said the two dates are realistic targets, but could change because much of the remaining repair work depends on the weather. He said NCDOT will provide updates if anything changes significantly.

The three-lane structure handles southbound traffic in the area where I-73 meets Interstate 85, south of Vandalia Road and west of Holden Road.

Immediately after the December wreck, NCDOT officials closed two lanes of the southbound bridge. They later opened a second lane after determining the bridge remained structurally sound.

The damage could have been worse. DOT engineers initially feared the bridge’s heat-damaged girders might have to be fully replaced. But an inspection several days after the wreck showed they could be fixed.

Some of that work was done last week, Moody said, by subcontractor Flame On Inc. The company uses “spot heating” technology to return girders to their proper, straightened form, he said.

“They’re able to straighten the girders without applying a lot of external force,” Moody said.

Contact Taft Wireback at 336-373-7100 and follow @TaftWirebackNR on Twitter.

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