Inspectors look at the underside the Interstate 20 bridge over the Mississippi River Thursday morning. (Paul Ingram - For The Vicksburg Post)
Brian Mizell, a salesman headed to Fort Worth, Texas, sits in his lawn chair waiting for the Interstate 20 bridge in Vicksburg, Miss., to reopen. (Meredith Spencer-The Vicksburg Post)
I was awaken this morning by my radio announcing that barges had hit a pier on the Old Hwy 80 bridge and traffic was shut down east and west. Below is the story of the accident from our paper, The Vicksburg Post.
Interstate 20 traffic, snarled all week by maintenance on the four-lane Mississippi River Bridge, was brought to a halt for 2-1/2 hours this morning after two barges broke loose from a southbound tow at 6:16 a.m.
Closure of the only river crossing between Natchez and Greenville was standard due to the river emergency, even though there was no indication the bridge had been hit. A Louisiana Department of Transportation engineer must come to the scene and certify the bridge safe to cross. That was completed and the bridge was reopened to one lane of westbound traffic and one lane of eastbound traffic — around the maintenance project site — at 8:57 a.m.
“Traffic was backed up on I-20 to about the (Vicksburg) city limits near the U.S. 61 North exit,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace shortly after the bridge reopened. “It’s moving slow now because of the congestion, but it’s moving.”
Vicksburg and Louisiana police initiated the closure around 6:30, Pace said. For several days, contractors have been working on a mid-bridge project that has taken inside lanes out of use. The project, scheduled to continue through the weekend and be completed Monday, has caused backups to build through the day every day this week. With traffic halted early today, lines could be expected to be longer than normal well into tonight.
Ergon Marine and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department responded to the initial loose barge report. The two barges broke free from the MV Susanna Griffin, owned by Grifco Transportation of Houston, and struck Pier 4 of the U.S. 80 bridge, which is upstream of the I-20 bridge, said Herman Smith, superintendent of the older bridge owned by Warren County.
Cameras monitor the area. “I looked at the videotape, but it was so dark I couldn’t see if they hit the I-20 bridge or not,” he said.
Rail traffic is the only traffic allowed on the old bridge and was suspended this morning across the U.S. 80 bridge, Smith said. That’s also standard practice, and rail traffic was expected to resume by this afternoon.
“We’ve already taken a preliminary look at the (U.S. 80) bridge and everything seems to be OK,” he said, adding Kansas City Southern inspectors arrived on the scene around 9:30 this morning.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, said Lt. Teresa Hatfield, U.S. Coast Guard supervisor of Marine Safety Detachment in Vicksburg. No restrictions have been put in place on river traffic as a result.
“It appears to be weather-related, but we’re not certain at this point,” said Hatfield of the cause. A light fog was visible on the river about that time.
“We did not close any portion of the river,” Hatfield said. “The barges are about one mile downriver from the bridges and are pushed up out of the navigation channel.”
No injuries were reported, and none of the fuel oil they were reported to contain has leaked, said Hatfield.
“Both of the barges are taking on water and they are in the process of pumping them out and moving them, but there is no product leaking into the river at this time,” Hatfield said around 9:30 a.m.
The last time the U.S. 80 bridge was struck by a barge was during the spring flood of 2008. Four barges slammed into the bridge in four separate incidents over a 12-day period beginning March 26, 2008. No structural damage was reported as a result of any of the collisions, and the I-20 bridge was not struck in any of the incidents.
River tows are composed of push boats with individual barges lashed together by cables. When cables break, the barges become free-floating. Contact Steve Sanoski at email@example.com