Apison Pike project delays remain unclear after Collegedale train derailment

Bridge beam carried by truck that was hit cost $35,000

Todd Pettibone/ Aviation Specialists Inc. / A detail of the scene of a Norfolk Southern Railway train derailment in Collegedale, Tenn., on Tuesday shows the 134-foot-long concrete bridge beam lying beneath some of the train's locomotives.

Tennessee transportation officials said it's too early to tell what impact the loss of a concrete bridge beam destroyed Tuesday in a collision between a Norfolk Southern freight train and the semitrailer hauling it will have on the Apison Pike widening and realignment project.

The 106,000-pound, 134-foot-long concrete bridge beam was bound for the Tennessee Department of Transportation's $97.2 million road project in Collegedale when the truck and train collided, shattering the beam and derailing the train.

"Our contractor will work with their supplier to determine when another beam can be manufactured and delivered," TDOT spokeswoman Rae-Anne Bradley said Wednesday in an email. "TDOT is not involved in this. It will be between the contractor and their supplier to work out."

Bradley was asked to provide a cost figure for the beam.

"We don't have a cost for the beam itself," Bradley said. "The contract price we have for the beam will include the cost to manufacture, deliver and install the beam. So this number will also include labor and equipment costs. For this beam specifically, our contract cost is $34,710."

The bridge beam was struck around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday when the Starrette Houston Trucking big rig transporting it to the job site stopped in traffic at the Tucker Road-Apison Pike intersection with the massive beam still over the railroad crossing on Apison Pike, authorities said. The truck was nearly to its destination.

Two Norfolk Southern employees were injured as the train led by three locomotive engines pulling 52 cars slammed into the beam. The train derailed with the engines landing on their sides atop the broken bridge beam and over Wilkerson Branch and the Wolftever Creek Greenway. The driver, identified as Jorge Luis Cruz-Vega, 64, of Martinez, Georgia, was uninjured.

(READ MORE: Collegedale area train traffic, part of Apison Pike and crossing access restored after derailment)

The contractor on the project, Charleston, Tennessee-based Wright Brothers Construction Co., had no comment Thursday, according to company spokeswoman Joelle M. Cavitt. Cavitt said the company defers to TDOT on any comments and did not say whether the loss of the beam would cause a delay.

The road project was nearly two-thirds complete and on track for completion by June 2025, TDOT officials said Dec. 7.

The current phase of the Apison Pike widening project is the third part of a larger effort to reconstruct and widen the road from Interstate 75 to East Brainerd Road. Because of the size of the overall project, TDOT divided the work into four smaller phases.

In the section between Ooltewah Ringgold Road and Layton Lane, nearly half the route will be shifted north of the existing roadway. The new alignment will be five lanes, two in each direction with a center turn lane, according to TDOT. A new intersection is coming at Tallant Road with a roundabout design, and a new bridge will be built over the Norfolk Southern Railroad to separate the tracks from the road. Additionally, 4-foot bike lanes and 5-foot sidewalks will be constructed along both sides of the road.

As of Dec. 7, Wright Brothers had completed three out of five bridges, five out of nine retaining walls, a roundabout and traffic signals at two intersections, according to TDOT. Traffic has been shifted onto a little more than a mile of new road on the 3.1-mile long project.

Officials at McKee Foods, maker of Little Debbie snack cakes, said earlier this week the derailment hadn't caused too many problems at the company's facility on Apison Pike, adjacent to the road project and the scene of the derailment. The company is also in the middle of an expansion project. Company spokesman Mike Gloekler said in an email Wednesday that McKee receives little by rail and what the company does get from trains is delivered to an offsite location where McKee's local trucks ferry it back to the manufacturing facility.

The rail repairs, widening project and congestion will create a traffic problems for a while, according to TDOT, so detours have been posted.


According to Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Rae-Anne Bradley, portions of both Apison Pike and University Drive could be subject to temporary closures until the crash investigation is complete, crash debris has been cleared and road repairs from the derailment have been made.

EASTBOUND: The detour for traffic headed east on Apison Pike directs motorists to turn left onto Little Debbie Parkway, right onto Lee Highway, right onto Edgmon Road, right onto Tallant Road and then left back onto Apison Pike.

WESTBOUND: Traffic headed west on Apison Pike should do the reverse, detouring right onto Tallant Road, left onto Edgmon Road, left onto Lee Highway, left onto Little Debbie Parkway and then right back onto Apison Pike.

Collegedale police also post frequent traffic updates on the Collegedale Police Department’s social media page, according to Assistant Police Chief Jamie Heath.

Sources: Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Collegedale Police Department

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

  photo  Todd Pettibone / Aviation Specialists Inc. / A detail of the scene of a Norfolk Southern Railway train derailment in Collegedale, Tenn., on Tuesday shows the 134-foot-long concrete bridge beam lying beneath some of the train's locomotives that derailed.