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05.18.2017 - Ceremonial Opening of Atlanta’s I-85 Bridge

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao

Ceremonial Opening of Atlanta’s I-85 Bridge

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thank you, Governor Deal and Commissioner McMurry.

On behalf of the President, I am so pleased to be here today, to celebrate the ceremonial opening of this new bridge and the men and women who made it possible.

The celebration of the opening of this bridge is an outstanding example of this community coming together to help Georgians and Atlantans get moving again!

As we all know, it’s not easy to build a bridge, let alone one this important. But doing it in less than seven weeks is a marvel of dedication, engineering and teamwork.  Everyone came together to finish this project in record time, in order to minimize the disruption to the people who depend upon this highway as their lifeline to work and family.

So first, let me commend Governor Deal for his leadership. His practice of pre-positioning state troopers along I-85 was critical to saving lives and preventing injury. Considering the bridge collapsed during heavy rush hour traffic, his strategy was critical to averting tragedy.

Commissioner McMurry also deserves our thanks for lending critical expertise, as well as the workers and skilled tradesmen and women who built the new bridge so quickly and safely. Demolishing an old bridge, hauling away the debris and building a new one in less than seven weeks-- ahead of schedule and under budget-- is a milestone!

It all began with Atlanta’s first responders, who rushed to the scene on March 30, stopping traffic, putting out the fire, and getting people out of harm’s way.  If you’ve watched the news footage, the bridge that once stood here collapsed less than an hour after traffic was stopped.  The quick thinking of these local heroes prevented a terrible tragedy and not only saved lives, but ensured no one was injured.  

I was so pleased to be able to accompany Fire Chief Joel G. Baker, of the City of Atlanta, and other representatives of Atlanta’s police and fire departments and the Georgia State Patrol when they visited the President on April 13.  It was an honor to showcase, and personally thank, all the wonderful men and women who put themselves on the line every day to keep us safe. 

Keith Parker, CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Transit Authority, is also here today and is to be commended for immediately helping people make the necessary changes to their commute by adding buses, trains and parking to meet demand, and launching a website to help them navigate the temporary detours.

And finally, let me recognize three very special people from the U.S. Department of Transportation: Butch Waidelich-- Executive Director of the Federal Highway Administration—Jim Ray, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Infrastructure, and Todd Inman, Director of Operations, as well as the dedicated professionals from the U.S. Department of Transportation team who were on site within an hour of the event.

Thanks to their hard work, we were able to deliver $10 million in emergency relief within 12 hours of the bridge collapse.  They expedited the federal review process, and assisted the Georgia DOT in identifying the critical materials and suppliers needed to get reconstruction underway as soon as possible.     

Today is a proud day for Atlanta, and a proud day for Georgia! 

When I was President of the United Way of America, I had the opportunity to work with the Atlanta community, so I know Atlanta has heart! 

Rebuilding this bridge was a tremendous team effort.  It is a tribute to the spirit of Atlanta, the great state of Georgia, and to all that can be accomplished when local, state and federal governments work together. So once again, congratulations on a job well done and on getting Atlanta moving again!  And thank you for inviting me to share in this joyous occasion!