CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Now that southbound I-75 has reopened and traffic is flowing smoothly again after a 'major pancake collapse' of the old Hopple Street overpass closed it for about 24 hours, attention turns to the cause of the accident that killed a construction worker.
Local bridge and construction expert James Swanson, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Cincinnati, said during an appearance Wednesday on FOX19 NOW Morning News he thinks the collapse is a construction accident that may be due to human error.
"The bridge in question looked to be in a pretty good shape and likely was fine until they tried to tear it down," he said. "One of the least stable times for a bridge is during construction or during deconstruction. When the bridge is in service and all the pieces are working together as a system, they are very safe. But when you start taking pieces away, if you don't do it in the right sequence, if you don't do it properly, then individual parts become unstable and can lead to a collapse like we saw."
Specifically, he said, a failure of an expansion joint on the bridge could have caused the bridge to give out.
"The bridge was a three-span bridge and it was adjoined in the middle span and that particular joint might have led to extra movement in the bridge as they removed part of the slab on a different span," Swanson said. "With a bridge like that, the exterior spans help to support the middle span and if part of the bridge is removed in an improper way or if something unexpected happens, it could lead to collapse or a failure of some sort."
The 51-year-old Hopple Street overpass collapse was reported about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday as state work crews were preparing to demolish it as part of a highway widening project.
The rubble collapsed onto construction worker Brandon Carl, 35, of Augusta, Kentucky, as he operated a backhoe, city and state officials announced in a press conference Tuesday.
Carl was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Hamilton County Coroner's Office. His cause of death was not released.
He was engaged to be married and leaves behind four children.
A semi tractor-trailer traveling on the highway struck the fallen section of the bridge. Eric J. Meyers, of Howell, Michigan, suffered non-life threatening injuries and was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, according to Cincinnati police.
"I can tell you that big rig driver - the semi driver - is very lucky," said Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. "In a matter of seconds his fate would have probably been different."
A new Hopple Street overpass already has been built to replace the old one and was not impacted. It remained open.