Leader Blues

Saturday, November 03, 2007

TOP STORY >>Aging guardrails take a pounding

IN SHORT: Workers repair overpass for the third time this year as a new onramp opens on T.P. White Drive.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

For at least the third time in the past 20 months, state Highway and Transportation Department workers are replacing missing and damaged guardrail and supports on the southbound lane of Hwy. 67/167 on the Main Street overpass at Jacksonville.

The guardrail on the overpass, built to outdated standards, is all that keeps errant vehicles from plunging to Main Street below—and it’s not always enough.

In February 2006, a loaded gravel truck driven by Donald Ray Watkins, then 36, of Ward, slammed into a line of stopped traffic on the overpass, driving two vehicles through the guardrail and landing among them on the street below.
Jerry Justice, 34, of Ward, was killed in that accident and four others were hospitalized.

From January 2003 through December 2006, the State Police worked 118 accidents on the overpass or within a quarter mile, according to data supplied by the state.

In addition to that one fatality, 71 people were injured as a result of those accidents.
Despite the large number of accidents over that time, including those actually on the overpass and some destroying the guard- rail, no redesign or reconstruction are planned for the near future, according to David Nellis, a Highway Department spokesman.

The overpasses are expected to be replaced eventually when Hwy. 67/167 is widened to three lanes in both directions between Jacksonville and Cabot.

Because the north and southbound overpasses and approaches are separated, most accidents are described as “rear end” or “single vehicle” crashes.

The most recent accident damaged about nine of the concrete posts that support the guardrail. The job was expected to be completed by the end of the week.

In other Jacksonville area highway developments, the new, $2 million northbound Vandenberg entrance to Hwy. 67/167 opened this week.

That was constructed by Rogers Inc. of Nashville, Tenn., replacing the short, inefficient and risky entrance across from Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.

Replacement of that ramp was on the wish list of Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim presented to state highway commissioners several years ago.

Also locally, Weaver-Bailey Contractors of El Paso (White County) is building a wider, 850-foot-long northbound bridge on Hwy. 67/167 over Bayou Meto, between Hwy. 440 and the Redmond Road exit.

That overpass, necessary to span the bayou and its flood plain is a major contributor to the $13 million cost of creaing four lanes on the 1.5 mile northbound segment of the highway, according to Highway Department spokesman Glenn Bolick.
The four-lane bridge will replace the existing 175-foot-long two-lane bridge.

At one time, it was thought the new bridge would need to be about 1,200 feet long and cost about $16 million, but the new design, which complies with FEMA floodplain and backwater requirements, was estimated to cost about $10 million.

The three through lanes and the interchange merge lane from Hwy. 440 to Redmond Road all will cross the new bridge.
The current bridge is wide enough for only the existing two lanes.

Work on the southbound lanes is slated for 2009, about the time work is completed on the northbound segment, Bolick said.
The missing link in widening both the north and southbound parts of Hwy. 67/167 to three lanes from I-40 to Redmond Road will then be a 1.5 mile segment from Kiehl Avenue to the Hwy. 440 overpass, according to Bolick.