One man was killed and three other people were injured in an accident that involved three 18-wheeler trucks and a pickup truck that was crushed beneath the girders of the overpass of I-35 and FM 2484 on March 26, shutting down I-35 overnight and diverting traffic to as far away as Killeen. Charges have not yet been filed.
Salado Volunteer Firefighters were the first on the scene and had to douse a fire that combusted on one of the northbound vehicles.
The overpass was struck by an 18-wheeler that carried an overheight load. The truck, operated by Lares Trucking and driven by Valentin Martinez, was measured at 14’7” by Department of Public Safety officers after the accident. It was carrying construction equipment in the flatbed of the trailer. The truck passed through the underpass after striking the first girder with its load and causing it to shift and then tumble down onto the highway.
A driver on the southbound side was killed when the girder fell on his pickup truck. He was identified as Clark Davis, a 32-year-old Arlington man. According to TxDOT officials, each of the girders weights 57.5 tons.
“The beams are set into slots on the support columns,” Wheatley stated. “They are not fastened in until the bridge deck plates are installed on top of the beams (that would have been the next step in construction). Each beam weighs 57.5 tons and they stay in place by their weight.
Three others suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to Baylor-Scott & White Hospital in Temple via helicopter or ambulance.
No charges have been filed (as of presstime) in the incident, but DPS officers continue to investigate the accident.
Texas Department of Motor Vehicle (TxDMV) officials stated that the trucking company did not have the proper permits for the overheight vehicle. According to the TxDMV website, the following maximum dimensions may be operated on Texas highways without a permit: Width of 8’6”, height of 14’ and a gross weight of 80,000. The lengths of vehicles that do not require a permit vary depending upon the situation.
According to the TxDMV Motor Carrier Permit division, the department issued 365,978 permits thus far in fiscal year 2015 (Sept. 2014-Jan. 2015).
“The bridge was measured early last Thursday (March 19) after the new beams were set,” Jodi Wheatley, public information specialist in the Waco district told Salado Village Voice. “The height was measured then as 14’ 0.5”. it was signed at that time or very shortly thereafter as 13’ 6” for an added measure of safety.”
“When you drive long distance, the air in your tires heats up and expands, putting more pressure on the inside of the tire and raising the vehicle up a bit,” she said to explain the posting of 13’6” for the bridge height. “Loads are usually measured on cold tires, so the extra clearance gives extra safety.”
Wheatley added that TXDOT sends the information to the TxDMV. “We send notice to TxDMV, which is the agency that issues oversize permits for all trucks too high, too wide or too heavy,” Wheatley said. “Those permits list the route the truck is to take, to make sure the truck fits all clearances. The trucking company is supposed to apply for those permits in advance of the travel of an oversized load.”
According to the TxDMV website, permittees are “responsible for obtaining current restrictions.” The TxDMV lists those restrictions broken down into the 25 different districts. According to that list, the restrictions for the FM 2484 were posted to the TxDMV on March 26, 2015, the day of the accident.
TxDMV also maintains a list of “Structures with Low Vertical Clearance,” divided by District. For the Waco district, as of presstime March 31, the following IH-35 structures were listed for Bell County: “I-35 NB, 14’ @ Stagecoach Rd., Salado; IH-35, 13’6” @ FM 935, Troy.”
For Williamson County in the Austin District, the following IH-35 structures were listed as “Structures with Low Vertical Clearance” on the TxDMV website: “N. FM487,13’6” under IH35 in Jarrell.”
TxDOT officials said that there were three warning signs of the low bridge at FM 2484, including an electronic sign. On northbound I-35 through Salado, both overpasses at Thomas Arnold Rd. and FM 2484 are now marked as 14’0”. An electronic sign before the northbound exit for FM 2268 south of Salado warns of the 14’0” minimum clearance through FM 2484 and asks overheight trucks to exit the highway at FM 2268 remaining on the access road through the FM 2484 overpass.
A bright orange diamond warning sign sits far off the highway and warns of the 14’0” clearance before the NB access road can enter the interstate just north of FM 2268.
A second electronic sign warns overheight loads to exit at FM 2484 before the overpass. A diamond warning sign warns of the 14’0” height at FM 2484 just after crossing over Salado’s Main Street.
On the southbound lanes, an orange diamond sign warns of the 14’3” height of the FM 2484 overpass at least a quarter mile before the exit.
The warning sign for the Thomas Arnold overpass, which is listed at 14’0” on the southbound side is placed right at the southbound exit to Thomas Arnold.
TxDOT officials say that when the expansion is completed through Salado that the overpasses will meet the regulation height of 16 feet in height. Federal Higway Administration (FHWA) states on its website that: “On Interstates, the clear height of structures shall not be less than 16 feet (4.9 meters) over the entire roadway width, including the useable width of shoulder. In urban areas, the 16-foot (4.9-meter) clearance shall apply to at least a single routing. On other urban Interstate routes, the clear height shall not be less than 14 feet (4.3 meters). A design exception is required if this standard is not met. Exceptions on the Interstate must also be coordinated with the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command Transportation Engineering Agency of the Department of Defense.”
In urban areas that have loops, the overpass heights may be 14 feet provided that other routes of the interstate (loops) maintain the 16 feet clearance.
Less than a week after a fatal accident along I-35 that shutdown the interstate overnight, Texas Department of Transportation officials announced three straight nights of interstate closings in Salado this week for work in the area of I-35 and FM 2484.
In this photo, you can see a vehicle in the lower right that was crushed by the support beam that collapsed and fell onto the roadway. The driver of this pickup truck was killed, according to the DPS. His name has not been released.
The photo above was taken Tuesday afternoon by Royce Wiggin and show work crews on the FM 2484. The support beam that was struck on Thursday morning and fell onto the roadway.