A bridge collapsed on a Salado, Texas interstate Thursday afternoon. A tractor-trailer truck was too tall to make it through the overpass, and the driver smashed it into the overhead beam. A man driving under the bridge the other way died, and three other drivers survived but got taken to a nearby hospital.

ABC News reports on the bridge collapse;

The truck hit a beam being used to build a bridge across Interstate 35 in Salado, about 40 miles north of Austin. Debris then toppled onto the interstate and was struck by other vehicles, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Becky Ozuna said.

The truck that reportedly caused the bridge collapse was described as an “oversized” 18-wheeler.

The oversized 18-wheeler came to a stop under the overpass with its cab heavily damaged. Two other rigs and two pickup trucks also were involved in the wreck, said Lt. Donnie Adams with the Bell County sheriff’s office.

Texas Dept. of Transportation (TDOT) officials who gave updates on the bridge collapse to the Statesman also blamed the truck driver and his “oversized” truck. After all, there were three signs posted within the two miles approaching the bridge that announced the 13 foot 6-inch clearance.

Veronica Beyer, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said that the beams of the bridge under construction were 14 feet and one-half inch above the surface of Interstate 35. Three signs were posted in the two miles before the bridge, she said. Each sign said that the bridge clearance was 13 feet 6 inches.

Beyer added in another update on the bridge collapse:

“The truck driver ignored signs that we had that would have indicated that the truck was too tall.”

Oh, but wait…maybe there weren’t any signs after all. The lack of signs would totally explain why the truck driver never saw them.

Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation now say it is not clear what signage might have been posted in the approach to the new bridge that was hit on Thursday morning.

In any case, can you really blame the truck driver for the bridge collapse? First of all, if all of our nation’s bridges can be toppled by a mere truck, we’re in serious trouble and need to rethink our structural engineering requirements. How else can we ensure we’re prepared for the worst when Godzilla invades and the Zombie Apocalypse begins? Second of all, incidents of trucks causing bridge collapses are way more common than we’d like to think. Perhaps we need to think about how we design our bridges.

TDOT told the Statesman the bridge collapse occurred because “the truck driver ignored signs” that should have warned him that his truck was “too tall.”  But wait. TDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer also declared the beams of the bridge were “14 feet and one-half inch above the surface of Interstate 35.”

Only 14 feet and one-half-inch’s worth of clearance? That seems awfully low, especially for a newly constructed bridge. A July 2013 report from a TDOT presentation on designing bridges for collisions warns designers that even the current  “absolute minimum clearance” of 16 feet six inches may not prove adequate for future bridge building.

• Superstructure depths can not be predicted that precisely (especially during bridge layout phase)
• Prohibits adding overlay to the lower roadway in the future
• Prohibits bridge from being widened in the future (due to cross slope being extended)

The report also warned that truck load heights won’t shrink any time soon, so bridges need to accommodate taller trucks.

Future loads (10,15 20+ years) will not be shorter than those of today

So how did a brand-spanking new bridge wind up barely over 14 feet tall? A lot of it might have to do with how our entire nation — not just Texas — is facing a massive infrastructure crisis due to budget cuts and lack of tax revenues for doing anything other than handing out lavish tax breaks to the rich.

It’s easy to hold the truck driver to blame for the bridge collapse, but that may not be entirely fair. Truck driving is currently one of the most dangerous — and potentially lethal — jobs in America. They’re also insanely underpaid. Their companies hand them unrealistic delivery schedules that require them to drive 10-14 hours at a stretch. Once a truck driver’s done for the day, it’s often hard to find something decent to eat and a safe and/or affordable place to sleep for the night.

And then, the next day…well, you try driving a big rig on less than five hours of sleep and see if you’d notice possibly non-existent highway signs warning you about some bridge with a ridiculously low underpass. Good luck.


Here’s the video with the report on the bridge collapse in Salado, Texas.

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