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Tower hauler violated permit

The driver of a truck hauling a wind tower column that hit the underside of an Interstate 94 overpass near Casselton was fined $100 on Monday for violating his state-issued travel permit, the North Dakota Highway Patrol said.

David Wharton, 37, of Whitehouse, Texas, was supposed to be driving on Cass County 10, which runs parallel to I-94, according to the route designated on his oversize load permit, Highway Patrol Sgt. Troy Hischer said.

Wharton was westbound on I-94 about 9:30 a.m. Saturday when the Texas-bound tower column struck the Highway 9 bridge span about 18 miles west of Fargo, causing chunks of concrete to fall onto the road.

At least nine cars were damaged by the debris, the Highway Patrol said.

Wharton’s permit allowed a maximum load height of 16 feet 11 inches; after the accident, it was measured at 16 feet 8 inches, Hischer said.

The overpass clearance is 16 feet 4 inches, said Kevin Gorder, metro engineer with the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

State bridge inspectors visited the site Monday and decided to keep the overpass closed through today while they evaluate the damage, department spokeswoman Peggy Anderson said.

The tower column hit three of the span’s four beams, which consist of steel encased in concrete, Gorder said.

“The first beam took a pretty good hit,” he said, noting a section of the steel beam is now exposed.

The truck, trailer and 114-foot-long tower column had a combined weight of 152,200 pounds, Hischer said.

“(Wharton) said he didn’t feel a thing. He heard it,” Hischer said. Wharton could not be reached for comment.

A damage estimate was not available. Gorder said the cost will depend on whether the state can repair the beams or must replace the entire span and bridge deck above it.

The wind tower column was manufactured at DMI Industries Inc. in West Fargo, but the company had already sold the column, General Manager Phil Christiansen said.

It’s unknown whether the tower column is still usable. Christiansen said the column is sitting at Industrial Builders Inc. in West Fargo, and DMI won’t look at it unless repairs are necessary.

The trucking company is responsible for the bridge damage, Hischer said.

Wharton was driving for American Transport Inc. of Pittsburgh. The firm is insured, Safety Manager Ed Anderson said.

Asked Monday if Wharton is still employed by the company, Ed Anderson said, “We’re still completing our investigation, so that will be determined when all the facts are in. We haven’t gotten the police report.”

Saturday’s accident was the third time in less than six years that a wind tower column has struck an interstate overpass in North Dakota, Peggy Anderson said.

In March 2002, a column slammed into the I-94 overpass at I-29 in Fargo.

“There were chunks of concrete the size of small cars hanging off I-94,” said Hischer, who also responded to that incident.

The state spent $110,118 on temporary repairs for the overpass, which was already scheduled for reconstruction. The cost was billed to the transport company’s insurer, Peggy Anderson said.

The truck driver in that case also failed to follow his permitted route, Hischer said.

In May 2004, a tower column clipped an overpass six miles west of Valley City, causing $28,000 in damage, which also was billed to the transport company’s insurer, Peggy Anderson said.

Instances of truck cargo hitting overpasses aren’t unusual, Hischer said.

“But it’s pretty odd when they have a permit” with a travel route designated by the state, he said.

Gorder said the state has seen a slight increase in the frequency of such incidents.

“I think, just in general, trucks are able to haul more and they’re hauling equipment that’s larger,” he said.

By Mike Nowatzki

The Forum

27 November 2007