A massive fire resulting from a semi-truck bridge crash has caused big traffic problems, and called the safety of the bridge into question.
Semi-truck bridge crash caused fire, gridlock
Around 2:45 A.M. on November 11, a semi-truck jackknifed on the Brent Spence Bridge, a double-decker truss bridge over the Ohio River.
The tractor-trailer was struck by another semi-truck—this one hauling 110 lbs of potassium hydroxide.
The crash sparked the fire, fueled by 400 gallons of diesel.
Both trucks went up in flames. Both truck drivers managed to escape without serious injury. Other vehicles had to back off the bridge, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The resulting fire was so intense, both sides of the 4-lane bridge are still closed. As a main route over Ohio River on I-71 and I-75, the closure has caused major delays and multiple detours.
It’s unclear when the Bridge will be re-opened. “We won’t have the details until those inspectors are there, but this is a serious accident and it is not outside the realm of possibility that we are looking at weeks,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said to the AP.
As of November 12, one of the detours drivers were taking to avoid the Brent Spence, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, was also blocked. The suspension bridge was closed after too many detoured semi-trucks used it. According to the local police, there were “numerous and continued violations of the bridge’s weight limits,” causing serious concerns about bridge safety.
Truck crash damage impacts bridges
The Brent Spence Bridge—a double-decker truss bridge— is estimated to carry 160,000 vehicles a day between Ohio and Kentucky. When it opened in 1963, there were 3 lanes in each direction. A 4th lane was later added, eliminating the emergency shoulders.
The Bridge is now considered “functionally obsolete”: it was never intended to carry the current level of traffic and vehicle weight. But there are many functionally obsolete bridges in the U.S., and many continue to serve their purpose for decades beyond their intended use.
In this situation, as in others, the bridge was not a victim of its own age (or at least, not entirely). The first cause was a jackknifed tractor-trailer.
Jackknife crash: when a semi-truck trailer skids towards the truck cab at a 90-degree angle.
This type of truck crash can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Excessive speed;
- Improper following distance;
- Bad weather conditions;
- Driver fatigue;
- Improper driver training; and/or,
- An unbalanced load.
So far, there’s been no official explanation for the cause of the initial jackknife crash. Despite Governor Beshear’s statement that this is a “serious accident,” there are very few actual “truck accidents“. Nearly all are predictable collisions that could have been prevented by safe driving.
We don’t yet know what caused the tractor-trailer to jackknife. Nor do we know how much the resulting fire damaged the structural integrity of the bridge.
It will be interesting to see what the official investigations conclude—and if they determine that the Brent Spence Bridge was too impacted by a semi-truck crash fire to ever be repaired.
Several years ago, I represented a young man who was driving across the Skagit County Bridge in Washington State, when it collapsed underneath his vehicle.
In that case, a semi-truck’s cargo slammed into with the bridge portal, and then struck several sway braces on the bridge’s overhead through-truss structure. The multiple impacts caused significant damage to the load-bearing pieces of the Skagit River Bridge. The damage resulted in the collapse of the north bridge span.