Tuesday, October 23, 2012

TOP STORY >> Driver dies on highway

Leader senior staff writer

A 31-year-old Little Rock man became the latest accident fatality on state highways Sunday night and at least the second man to die as the result of an accident on the deadly state Hwy. 67/167 Main Street overpass at Jacksonville since January 2006.

The preliminary state Police accident report says Nicholas Carter was driving a 2001 Toyota Corolla on Hwy. 67/167 South when he lost control in a curve. The car hit the inside concrete retaining wall and became disabled in the middle of the lane.

David Bailey, 61, of Greenville, Ill., was driving a 2007 International truck. Bailey hit Carter’s car on the front driver’s side.

Carter was wearing a seat belt. Bailey was not injured.

The preliminary report did not say that the accident occurred on the overpass or approach, but Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes confirmed the location Tuesday.

State Police worked the accident and Jacksonville police aided with traffic control, he said.

The bridge, about 50 years old, is not engineered to modern standards. Along with a similar structure on the same highway at Redmond Road, it is due to be replaced starting next summer, according to Randy Ort, state Highway Department Communications director.

Both those projects have been in the pipelines for years, although only recently were the Redmond Road and Main Street bridges combined into a single project, by way of addressing the Main Street project sooner than originally planned. Local residents and commuters have become used to accidents, orange barrels and bridge guardrail repairs on the outside southbound lane of the overpass.

From January 2003 through December 2006, the State Police worked 118 accidents resulting in 71 injuries on the Main Street overpass or within a quarter mile, according to data supplied by the state.

At times, only the barrels, good fortune and careful driving have kept other vehicles from plunging unimpeded to Main Street below until repairs were completed.

In February 2006, Jerry Justice, 34, of Ward was crushed and pronounced dead at the scene after the gravel truck driven by Donald Ray Watkins, 35, slammed two pickup trucks through the overpass guardrail and plunged after them onto Main Street, about 20 feet below, dumping the gravel on the other vehicles, according to the State Police account.

Bids on replacement of those two overpasses with larger, safer structures are slated to be let during the 2013 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, and construction could begin by mid summer.

The new structures will have three lanes each direction and generous shoulders, according to Ort and the 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Plan estimates the replacement cost at $17.3 million.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, who has advocated quick and effective replacement of those bridges since taking office, admits traffic will be a nightmare for commuters during the construction, which could take 12 to 18 months.

The new Main Street bridge will have a gentler curve than the current bridge, and will have barriers that meet modern standards and will be banked, according to Jacksonville City Engineer Jay Whisker.

The old barriers were concrete posts supporting guard rails, and the outside barrier on the southbound structure seemed at times to be perpetually broken and under repair.

“The city wants the curve taken out for obvious reasons,” said Whisker, “but the Highway Department said we can’t take it completely out.”

The new overpasses are the next step toward widening Hwy. 67/167 from I-40 to Cabot.