When Trucks and Bridges Collide
As the country gets serious about bridge and highway infrastructure rehabilitation, more of it needs to get as serious about safety as it is about profit.
When the Missouri DOT announced in August that work would begin Sept. 8 on U.S. 136 Brownville Bridge over the Missouri River in the state’s northwest and that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would be the source of revenue for the project, they sent to media crucial information that width restrictions would be dialed down to 102 inches for the next two construction seasons.
But the announcement missed a lot of the nationwide trucking media. Local economic needs dominated MoDOT’s reasons for keeping the bridge open, and local media outlets were the ones that ran with the information. One commercial tire shop, Graybill Tire & Repair, at 136 and I-29 a few miles from the crossing, undoubtedly knew the work was coming. I doubt they were expecting the boost in business.
One of Graybill’s many following first-time customers was Charlie Spicer, an owner-operator leased to Alpine Transportation of Vancouver, Wash., who was running with another Alpine hauler across the bridge when that hauler “clipped a trailer tire, and the guy in front of me blew a couple,” Spicer says. Spicer himself lost a tire on his tractor and a tire and wheel on his company trailer. Laid over at Graybill, which shares its lot with a truckstop, the next morning he met six other haulers in for similar repairs. He got on the phone to Alpine safety rep Angela Allen, who put in calls to the Missouri Department of Transportation. “We started with them,” Allen says, “and they gave us the contractor’s info.” The contractor, Allen adds, thinks MoDOT should be responsible because MoDOT is making them keep the bridge open. Contractor Cramer & Associates had originally planned to shut it down for the work.
“They told me I got one of the last tires they had,” Spicer says of the folks at Graybill, whom he talked to again when he stopped in on his return trip through the area. On that next trip, they told him “they’d had to go to Kansas City to get more, and they were kinda laughing about it.”
The joke cost Spicer and Alpine around $900 for the repairs to his truck, all told. If you have any doubt about your tractor-trailer’s ability to navigate a 9-ft., 3-in. lane, bridges over the Missouri to the north through Nebraska City on state route 2 or to the south on U.S. 159 are available. The Brownville Bridge will be down to one lane through next year.
MoDOT says all required signage is up, that accidents are the fault of the haulers involved. “That’s a pretty tough bite for a trucker to swallow,” says MoDOT spokesperson Elaine Justus, adding that, like Alpine, other carriers have been “sending in claims to us for tires and wheels, but we don’t feel we’re liable.” What the drivers are hitting, she says, are steel rivets in the bridge’s structure.
“If you have a trailer that’s dogtracking a little, that’s where they’re coming up with their problems,” Graybill manager Terry Robinson says.
But the damage hasn’t been limited to trailer tires, as Spicer’s rig is evidence of. “Everybody’s wanting to pass the buck and not take responsibility for it,” says Allen, responsibility which lies with those involved in the bridge work, not individual truckers, Spicer firmly believes. He says he’s trying to get all affected trucking parties together to press their case to the state. For now, Allen says, she and Alpine filed claims on their own and Spicer’s behalf with Cramer & Associates’ insurance company, which she’s been told will likely be denied.
Where it all goes from here depends largely on who has the energy to make their best case and ultimately, one hopes, who is right.
Researching part of the international feature in this month’s issue I came across a photographer’s work on Flickr.com in which, yes, long-haul tractors from across South America appeared in stunning fashion. Igor Alecsander is a Brazilian native in his 20s who, he says, “always wanted to get a big truck and go hauling, but for reasons of destiny the opportunity did not arise.” He got other road experience on his own as a photographer. In addition to the truckstop scene here shot in the Atacama desert in the north of Chile, his work is showcased in various galleries at igoralecsander.com or flickr.com/estradasbiz.