'There's no excuse': TDOT, THP want local companies in compliance after truck hits Moore Road bridge

A portion of I-24 East is closed due to a truck hitting an overpass on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Chattanooga. / Photo courtesy of TDOT

While the Tennessee Department of Transportation has declared the Moore Road bridge "safe" and "functional" after a truck driver struck it Tuesday, state officials are using the opportunity to bring awareness to prevent such an event from happening again.

The incident was reported around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and caused Interstate 24 eastbound and the Moore Road bridge to shut down overnight for repairs, bringing evening rush-hour traffic to a crawl.

Upon the initial assessment, a bridge inspection team and maintenance crew determined that eight of the 24 reinforcing strands on the outside beam had been severed, according to Region Two TDOT Assistant Chief Engineer Joe Deering.

TDOT worked with Dement Construction Company to remove the damaged beam, and the roadway reopened around 1 a.m. Wednesday. However, TDOT also found marks suggesting that the Belvoir bridge down the road had also been struck at some point, but it was deemed safe, Deering said during a Wednesday news conference.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. John Harmon said the incident highlights the importance of local companies making sure they're in compliance and physically measuring truck loads before traveling on roadways.

"There are a tremendous amount of oversized loads that are being transported on our roadways in our area," Harmon said. "It is imperative that before you move your equipment, that you secure your load."

Harmon said the majority of strikes that have been happening around the Chattanooga area are local companies moving from job site to job site. While he said there's no official number on how many accidents similar to Tuesday's have happened recently, he said "it's happening too frequently" and in many surrounding counties.

photo A portion of I-24 East is closed due to a truck hitting an overpass on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Chattanooga. / Photo courtesy of TDOT

Harmon issued a reminder that the load limit is a maximum height of 13 feet, 6 inches, and a maximum width of 8 feet; anything over that requires a TDOT permit. He also said drivers should be familiar with the routes they are traveling before attempting to move loads through them.

It was determined that the driver of the truck that struck the Moore Road bridge did not have a permit - and didn't require one - but the vehicle was loaded in a manner that was over the height limit, Harmon said. The truck had pulled off at Bass Pro Shops in East Ridge, where it was met by a state trooper. The driver was then ticketed for being over height.

"When a Tennessee state trooper stops an oversized load and it requires a permit and they do not have a permit, the driver is subject to fines. And at that point in time, the Tennessee Highway Patrol would place that vehicle out of service and park it at a location safe off of the roadway, and it cannot proceed until it sees a TDOT permit and is in compliance with all the rules within that overdimensional permit," Harmon said.

While no one was injured or affected by the debris from the Tuesday incident, Harmon said "there's no excuse" for the bridge strikes that have been happening, and several charges can result from not complying with the rules.

"There can be many repercussions when you improperly load your truck or don't have the proper documentation," Harmon said. "We want to bring awareness to all our local companies ... we want them to be in compliance so things like this don't happen."

Deering said the insurance adjuster for the company of the driver was on site Tuesday night and that TDOT will be working with them to pay for the Moore Road bridge repairs. In the meantime, TDOT is looking at temporary repairs and working to get the guide signs back up.

Both the Moore Road and Belvoir bridges are scheduled to be replaced in the next year or so, with Moore Road's as part of the second phase of the I-24/I-75 interchange project, according to Deering.

It is the second time in less than a year that oversized trucks have hit overpasses in that area.

Last year on April 1, TDOT shut down the Interstate 75 South ramp at the I-24 split after a piece of the side of the ramp collapsed, tumbling onto the I-75/I-24 ramp headed to Chattanooga. One person was injured when their vehicle plowed into the fallen debris. Officials later surmised that a truck carrying an illegally oversized load hit the bridge, slicing through steel cables that supported the concrete railing.

And it's not just a problem here. Cities across the country are grappling with the issue.

From 2014-2018, 13 people died in crashes in which a large truck has struck a bridge overpass, according to a December report from Stateline.org on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

Information from the press conference was obtained from a live feed provided by WRCB-Channel 3.

Contact Kim Sebring at ksebring@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6315.