By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Montana Department of Transportation officials said it will take about two months to repair a bridge on U.S. Highway 2 near Chinook that collapsed during a traffic accident Tuesday.
According to a press release from MDT, the existing structure can be repaired, and the department has begun accepting bids for the project. The contract will be awarded immediately and construction should begin by the end of next week, the release said.
"Our goal is to get the traffic back on U.S. 2 within two months, if not sooner," Great Falls district administrator Mick Johnson said in the release. "In the meantime, we thank the public for their patience."
MDT bridge specialists from Helena and Great Falls were called to examine the bridge shortly after its collapse to determine the extent of damage and how it might be repaired, MDT public information officer Lisa Vander Heiden said.
The closure of the bridge forced MDT and the Montana Highway Patrol to close a 5-mile section of U.S. Highway 2 indefinitely and reroute traffic on a series of gravel roads.
The bridge, which spans the Milk River about 5 miles west of Chinook, collapsed after two tractor-trailers collided about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday. The crash occurred when a bulldozer being hauled on the trailer of the eastbound truck, driven by Dave Williams, 59, of Havre, clipped a bridge pylon and twisted clockwise on the trailer, the Montana Highway Patrol said.
A "ripper" unit mounted on the back of the dozer tore into a westbound grain rig, driven by Michael Shroyer of Billings, tearing out the rear portion of one trailer and destroying a second, smaller ''pup'' trailer, the Highway Patrol said.
Then the dozer blade severed a support beam on the southwest corner of the bridge, causing the bridge to collapse, the patrol said.
Neither driver was injured. The dozer, the trailer it was on, and the pup trailer were all stuck on the collapsed bridge Tuesday. The vehicles have since been removed, Hand said.
The truck driven by Williams was wider than legal limits, and not accompanied by flag vehicles or equipped with warning lights, as required for wide loads, the MHP report said. The investigation will be turned over to the Blaine County Attorney's Office for review, the patrol said. No charges have been filed.
Williams declined to comment this morning.
Huestis said he hopes that the bridge will be widened when it is repaired or rebuilt."It's going to be an inconvenience, but I think we need it," he said. "I think a lot of people have a tendency to crowd that center line as it is."
Traffic is being detoured around the bridge from Logie Road to County Road 529 into Chinook. The posted speed limit for the detour is 35 mph.
The detour creates a travel delay of about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the weather, MDT division maintenance chief Dave Hand said today.
MDT and county crews are working on the detour routes, so drivers will need to watch for flaggers and equipment along the roadway, according to an MDT press release. The department has asked that there be no overweight or oversize loads on the detour route. Anyone traveling with an overweight or oversize load should contact MDT, the release said.
Hand was in Chinook today meeting with Blaine County officials to discuss the detour.
"We just need to iron out some issues," he said. "It's obviously a shift in service, rerouting all that traffic, and putting 3,000 cars a day on a county road."
The MDT will have to make some minor changes to the road, Hand said.
"I don't think any major construction, just try to improve the existing surface a little bit," he said.
MDT has been adding and replacing guardrails on bridges along U.S. Highway 2 between Havre and Chinook. The bridge damaged in Tuesday's accident had recently been outfitted with new guardrails, Blaine County Sheriff Glenn Huestis said, adding they were not hit during the wreck.