Atlanta I-85 fire and bridge collapse reminds Birmingham of “Malfunction Junction” interstate closures in the early 2000s

Birmingham Alabama Malfunction Junction
Photo of the 2002 “Malfunction Junction” accident that shut down the interstate for a month and half – via Bhamwiki

Last night’s fire, collapse and closure of Atlanta’s Interstate 85 (I-85) reminded Birmingham residents of its own lengthy interstate closures that occurred at Birmingham’s infamous”Malfunction Junction” at I-65 and I-20/59 in the early 2000s.

From the files of Bhamwiki – On January 5, 2002, an accident resulted in the death of trucker Tim Dyson after his tanker truck was cut-off by another motorist and lost control while heading northbound through the interchange along I-65. The resulting explosion caused severe damage to the bridge connecting I-20/I-59 southwest with I-65 south, and a plume of black smoke visible from throughout the city. The bridge would remain closed until February 25, 2002, resulting in motorists being detoured to U.S. Highway 78/Arkadelphia Road during the interim. Repairs were completed by Brasfield & Gorrie in just 38 days after demolition of the damaged bridge was complete. 

The impact on transportation was so serious, the Birmingham Business Journal reported at the time Mayor Bernard Kincaid urging local businesses to use “flex time” to help ease traffic congestion into downtown.

The rapid response and rebuilding of the interstate in less than a month and a half was hailed as a legendary engineering accomplishment.  In fact, the state of Alabama’s Engineering Hall of Fame recognized the feat about a year later in 2003.

From the Hall of Fame’s website:

“If our discipline had a mythology, recounting the exploits of bold engineers in daunting scenes, this project might be one for the books. It has certainly been discussed around the water cooler in engineering offices statewide. For when has a major interstate bridge in the heart of a big city been removed, improved, and rebuilt in only 37 days? Never in Alabama, until winter 2002, when a fiery crash at Birmingham’s “Malfunction Junction” touched off a record-setting engineering effort.” ~ Emergency I-65 Bridge Replacement – From Ashes, a Phoenix Flies Up

Unfortunately, just two years later in 2004, Birmingham experienced another closure at Malfunction Junction when an accident involving a 9000 gallon diesel truck damaged the interstate. Portions of the interstate were subsequently closed lasting between October 21  to December 4, 2004.

Birmingham is no stranger to major interstate road closures near the “heart” of downtown. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery for our friends in Atlanta.  If there is any city that can relate to these tragic events, it is the Magic City.




Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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