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GDOT: Toppled sign structure not vital to toll system

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman A tractor trailer struck a sign on Interstate 85 north near the intersection with Ga. Highway 316 causing it to fall and block all lanes of traffic.
 Crews investigate the scene where a truck struck a support beam for a sign which extended across Interstate 85 near the Ga. Highway 316 interchange on Wednesday morning. 

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman A tractor trailer struck a sign on Interstate 85 north near the intersection with Ga. Highway 316 causing it to fall and block all lanes of traffic. Crews investigate the scene where a truck struck a support beam for a sign which extended across Interstate 85 near the Ga. Highway 316 interchange on Wednesday morning. 

DULUTH — An overhead sign structure that’s part of Gwinnett’s new Peach Pass system crashed down over all lanes of northbound Interstate 85 on Wednesday morning when a distressed tractor-trailer driver struck it, officials said.

Traffic had to be diverted around the toppled structure, which crushed the truck’s cabin a few dozen yards south of the Ga. Highway 316 flyover. No major injuries or damages to other vehicles were reported.

The structure was not a vital link to the pay-to-drive toll lanes that span most of the county, officials said.

The crash happened just before 10 a.m. All lanes were reopened and debris removed by 12:30 p.m., said Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman Mark McKinnon.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said the driver, who was not identified, had a sudden problem with the truck’s front left tire and pulled into the highway gore where the interstate branches onto Ga. Highway 316. Unable to stop, the driver crashed through a guardrail and struck a support pole for the sign structure, bringing it down, Smith said.

McKinnon said the sign indicated the next exits as Sugarloaf Parkway and Old Peachtree Road and contained some tolling equipment. A contractor who’d worked on the recent installation of HOT lanes in Gwinnett brought in a crane from a nearby site. Workers used the crane to lift the sign structure and debris from the interstate. The interstate was then reopened, still charging tolls in the left lane.

GDOT officials said it was too early to estimate damage costs.

“In a situation like this, the insurance company of the at-fault driver would pay for the damages,” McKinnon said. “So taxpayer money would not be used for these repairs.”

The sign was erected as part of the tolling project and served as a duplicate exit reminder.

“In other words,” said McKinnon, “it’s not a sign that has to go back up today.”

Capt. Thomas Rutledge, Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman, said emergency responders accessed the driver without being endangered by the sign and transported him to Gwinnett Medical Center with minor injuries.

McKinnon said law enforcement on scene reported to him the driver was able to walk away.

Traffic was diverted via collector-distributor lanes to Exit 105, which allowed vehicles to bypass the scene and get back on I-85. The back-up stretched for about a mile, McKinnon said.

A Hazmat Team responded to contain a small diesel leak from a saddle tank on the truck, Rutledge said.