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Truck rams W.Va. overpass

March 19, 1999

Truck hits bridgeBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - A truck driver who violated his permit rammed a bridge that runs over Interstate 81 Thursday afternoon, damaging the bridge and backing up southbound traffic for several hours, according to West Virginia State Police.

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West Virginia authorities said both lanes under the bridge will be closed at least for most of today. Traffic also will be prevented from traveling over the bridge until it is repaired.

The trailer, which was carrying a scrap bucket to a company near Petersburg, Va., struck the bridge at the intersection of I-81 and Spring Mills Road at about 1:30 p.m. It is the third time the bridge has been damaged in recent years, authorities said.

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John T. Robertson, 61, of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, was charged with failing to follow his permit, police said.

Robertson, who works for B&D Lalonde Trucking and Hauling Inc. in Scarborough, Ontario, was supposed to exit the interstate at Spring Mills Road and avoid going under the bridge. But he did not.

A pole on top of an escort vehicle that was traveling about a quarter-mile ahead of the truck hit the bridge. The driver of the vehicle radioed to Robertson.

"He did warn him, but apparently there was not enough room between the two vehicles," said Sgt. Deke Walker, commander of the Berkeley County division of the Interstate Patrol.

Walker said Robertson apparently tried to maneuver the truck toward the center of the road, where the bridge is higher. But the 15-foot, 8-inch scrap bucket struck the bridge, knocking concrete onto the highway beneath.

Robertson's permit, which he was required to get because he was hauling a wide load, placed a number of restrictions on his route, including a mandate that he drive around the bridge.

"We missed that on the permit," Robertson said.

Robertson was hauling the scrap bucket from Barton Air Fabrications in Hamilton, Ontario, to Chaparral Steel Recycling near Petersburg. The scrap bucket is used for melting down recycled steel, Robertson said.

After the accident, police blocked both southbound lanes, requiring vehicles to get off at the Spring Mills Road exit and re-enter the highway at the adjacent entrance. That slowed traffic to a crawl, backing up trucks and cars for about five miles.

Engineers from the West Virginia Department of Highways said traffic would be diverted at least through today while damage is assessed.

"We need to make sure there's not any busted-up concrete that will fall and break some windows. We don't want to rush through this tonight," said Gary Klavuhn, district bridge engineer for the Department of Highways. "At 70 mph, it does not take a very big piece of concrete to break a window and kill someone."

Klavuhn said traffic would not be allowed over the bridge until the damage is repaired. He said he does not know how long repairs will take.

Klavuhn placed a preliminary damage estimate at $150,000.

"We're trying to remember how much we spent last time," he said.

At 15 feet, 4 inches, the Spring Mills Road bridge is the lowest bridge on I-81 in West Virginia. Klavuhn said it has been the site of at least three serious accidents in recent years.

In September 1996, a tractor-trailer carrying a piece of heavy equipment struck the overhead span of the bridge in the northbound direction, Klavuhn said. He recalled that repairs cost about $110,000.

"This was worse," he said.

The bridge also was damaged about five or six years ago, Klavuhn said. An accident last year was not serious enough to require repairs, he said.

Klavuhn said the target height of new bridges is about 16 1/2 feet. A new three-lane bridge, which is in the design stage, is scheduled to replace the existing bridge, which was built in the late 1950s or early '60s.

Klavuhn said engineers will methodically examine the bridge today to determine if cars can safely pass underneath. Then officials will determine how long it will take to make repairs.

"We're going to think this through one step at a time," Klavuhn said.

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