The effort to pull a wind turbine tower base out of a ditch on Interstate 91 shut down the southbound lane between Newport City and Orleans for nearly three hours Friday morning.
And that forced southbound I-91 traffic, including lots of Canadian tourists, right into downtown Newport City where traffic was already slowed because of the ongoing paving project.
Traffic slowed to a crawl for about a half hour until Newport City police were able to speed the detoured vehicles through the city toward Route 5 and on to Orleans.
“Some people were delayed but it definitely could have been worse,” Patrolman Royce Lancaster said.
Locals avoided traditional routes and used Hinman Settler Road, a winding dirt road through Brownington, to reach Orleans and other southern Orleans County communities to reach work.
The traffic problems began Thursday afternoon when a tractor trailer carrying the turbine section destined for the Lowell wind project overturned in the southbound lane in Irasburg at 5:16 p.m. That shut down one lane and lead to Friday morning’s traffic headaches. The accident occurred just north of the Orleans exit.
The truck driver was in the left lane and trying to get around a newly paved section of the highway when his left-side wheels went off the pavement and into dirt on the soft shoulder, state police said.
The truck and trailer gradually tilted over into the ditch where the load remained until Friday morning. The driver, Jimmy Maddox, 53, of Gainesville, Texas, was not injured. He was wearing a seat belt, police said. State police said speed was not a factor. The tractor and trailer were damaged.
“Once the tires were off, it went over, just like a load of logs,” Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin said.
The call went out for a crane large enough to lift the load off the trailer. Bay Crane Northeast from Foxboro, Mass., responded driving all night to reach the accident location.
Meanwhile, southbound traffic was affected off and on overnight, Martin said. They brought in night lights from the Irasburg Fire Department to keep the accident area in the passing lane well-lit.
By 7 a.m., three trucks with crane components arrived at the site. Police shut down the southbound lanes just after 8 a.m. so the two cranes could be assembled in the roadway next to the turbine section.
A new truck and trailer from the wind site arrived and the crane operator picked up the turbine section and set it in the trailer bed by about 9:45 a.m. It took another hour to disassemble the crane and load it onto the waiting truck trailers, which had to be done in the two lanes of the closed southbound lane. Southbound traffic resumed at 10:51 a.m., the sheriff’s department said.
Meanwhile, Lancaster received the call at 8:15 a.m. that traffic from the interstate was being diverted through downtown Newport City to Route 5.
The lines of vehicles began backing up from the Causeway at Waterfront Plaza on Vermont Route 191, known locally as the I-91 access road, at about 8:30 a.m. Lancaster said he was trying to reach the intersection of the Causeway and the access road but was slowed by paving work on the Causeway Bridge that left only one lane open.
Once he reached the intersection, it took him less than an hour to clear the line of traffic and make sure it was flowing smoothly. The city switched the Main and Coventry streets traffic lights to flashing yellow to allow the traffic to flow more quickly out of downtown, Lancaster said.
He had to return one more time to the intersection at the Causeway to speed up traffic, but by then the interstate was open.
“People were polite. I got a lot of ‘thank yous’,” Lancaster said.
Most of the Canadian tourists asked for directions to Route 5, he said.
On the interstate last night, Deputy Phil Brooks said he gave a ticket for speeding in a work zone to one motorist “and gave two others a talking to.” Otherwise, motorists took care going around the ditched turbine, police said.
Several protesters drove by the ditched turbine and expressed their opinions, Martin and Brooks said.
Lucy Leriche, a spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power which is building the wind site, said the turbine looked a little scuffed up but appeared to be undamaged. Officials with Vestas, the company that built the turbine parts, were at the accident scene.
Engineers will assess the condition of the turbine tower base, GMP official Robert Dostis said Friday.
Any costs associated with the accident are the responsibility of the trucking company and ultimately the general contractor, Reed & Reed, Dostis said. GMP customers will not bear the cost, he said.
It was the second time this week that something slowed delivery of a turbine section. On Monday protesters stopped traffic on Route 100 at the wind site staging area, stopping a delivery.
The protest and the accident has not affected the delivery schedule or the work on the wind site, Dostis said.
“We are ahead of schedule because of the good weather the past two months.”
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