Friday, July 12, 2013

TOP STORY >> Repairs needed on old overpass

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Highway Department crews this week repaired the bridge at Jacksonville’s Main Street overpass on Hwy. 67/167 after yet another accident on the aging and troublesome section of road.

Spokesman Danny Straessle said a driver struck the vertical columns that support the guardrails on the southbound outside lane. The car then ricocheted across to the other lane, hitting the railing on the other side of the bridge, he noted.

Straessle added that the southbound inside lane of Hwy. 67/167 will be closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, weather permitting, for repairs to the other side of the bridge. Traffic will be controlled using cones and warning signs.

Details of the accident, such as the driver’s name and when it happened, are unknown because the accident was not reported to police, Straessle explained.

He added, “They’re lucky they didn’t go off the bridge.”

Others have not been so lucky.

The overpass has a long history of accidents and deaths, and, in tandem with the Redmond Road overpass just to the south, it is slated for replacement.

Straessle said bids for the project would be let in the fall.

Construction could take at least 18 months after bids are accepted.

Mayor Gary Fletcher previously estimated the bridges would be replaced by the end of 2014 at the earliest.

The new structures will have three lanes each direction and generous shoulders, Randy Ort, a highway department spokesman, said previously.

The 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Plan estimates the replacement cost at $17.3 million.

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

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

The area maintenance director discovered the most recent damage to the overpass, Straessle noted.

From 2001 through 2010, State Police worked 249 crashes on the bridge or on its approach, according to statistics provided by the State Police.

Most accidents on the overpass occur in the southbound lane, where centrifugal force helps errant vehicles to — and sometimes through — the guardrails 20 feet above Main Street.

In December, an 18-wheeler’s right front tire blew out while the driver was crossing the bridge.

The truck took out eight concrete guardrail posts before plunging down the grassy embankment.

Fortunately, no one was injured.

In late October, a local man was killed in an accident on or near the bridge.

In February 2006, a man from Ward was crushed and pronounced dead at the scene after a gravel truck slammed two pickup trucks through the overpass guardrail and plunged after them onto Main Street, dumping the gravel on the other vehicles, according to the State Police account.