A number of bridge strikes have caused closures on highways around Midland and Odessa the past few weeks, creating additional traffic and conflict points.
Texas Department of Transportation Spokesman Gene Powell said TxDOT has seen 13 bridge strikes since Nov. 1, and around 100 bridge strikes in total in the past six years.
The most recent of these have been two bridge closures east of Midland: The Business Interstate 20 west interchange bridge over I-20 at mile markers 154 and 155 on the west side of Stanton and the bridge carrying County Road 1150 across I-20 east of Midland suffered severe damage from oversized loads. They also have repairs being done at I-20 and Loop 250 due to a bridge strike two years ago.
Passing lanes have also been closed at Interstate 20 and Crane Avenue while construction of a crossover is completed due to bridge strikes from two years ago, and Powell said they are also adding a bridge rail upgrade at I-20 and East Loop 338, with various ramp and lane closures over the next 10 weeks as bridge rails are updated.
Powell said TxDOT is seeing three things behind the cause for these bridge strikes: People who have oversized loads who are not bothering to get permits, people who get permits for their loads but ignore the route they are told to go and those who have their loads not restrained properly, such as a track hoe that is not tied down, causing the arm to extend.
Powell said the oil industry picking up over the last few years may also have a hand in the uptick in bridge strikes.
“Any time you have more traffic, you have more accidents,” Powell said. “The frustrating part is all this is preventable.”
Powell said every bridge is marked clearly with how tall it is, and all of the bridges in the area are well over 14 feet. He said if drivers would just follow the rules, most of the problems would be eliminated.
“If you go through the process of getting that permit, that’ll eliminate 95 percent of the problem,” Powell said. “If you just do what you’re supposed to do.”
Powell said it would take weeks to get estimates on the bridge strikes in Stanton and Midland, but that the strike in Stanton could reach seven figures pretty easily. The costs of the repair may not be astronomical, he added, but the costs of the traffic control could create more spending.
The work on Crane Avenue is costing around $3.5 million to repair two bridges, Powell said, and a little more than $2 million of that is traffic control — they have to build a traffic barrier and a median.
“Part of the problem at Crane Avenue is there is no service road,” Powell said. “So we have to build a crossover across the median. It’s the same kind of thing over at Loop 250.”
Powell said there’s no real way to predict these kinds of hits, so TxDOT can’t plan for them. They have a small contingency fund, but Powell said it’s not enough for the number of strikes they have seen. Sometimes they have to keep bridges closed while they find funding for repairs, Powell said, and they always try to pursue reimbursement if they can, but it usually still has to come out of TxDOT’s budget initially to get the repairs done while they attempt to recoup the costs.
Like in the case of the bridge hits in Stanton, Powell said they found the person responsible and would attempt to pursue reimbursement for the damage.
Powell said that for major repairs, they would often get money from the bridge division of TxDOT in Austin, and for minor repairs they have contracts with several repair companies.
“The reality is that sometimes, good repair projects can sit for more than a year while we pursue funding, because we don’t want to delay other projects,” Powell said.
Powell said these closures can cause backups with work to be done on road issues such as potholes.
“We have had a lane closure on Loop 250 for two years,” Powell said. “We don’t recoup the frustration and back-ups, there’s no way to quantify that stuff. There are costs involved we can’t recoup.”
What would really help the situation are efforts to improve safety on the road from industry leaders, Powell said. The Permian Roads Safety Coalition is one such group, formed by leaders in the oil and gas industries, who are attempting to plan better transportation safety practices to lower the leading cause of death in their industry: fatal transportation crashes.
“Commercial vehicle drivers and commercial vehicle companies have to put this as a priority where we don’t have these kinds of hits,” Powell said. “Drivers have to make it personal as well.”