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Trucking company apologizes for Glenn Highway bridge damage, blames customer

A section of crane derrick is unloaded from a flatbed trailer Friday at the Artillery Road overpass on the Glenn Highway as repairs get underway. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

It will cost almost $2 million to repair the Glenn Highway overpass damaged Wednesday by a truck pulling a load too tall to fit under it.

State officials say it's possible the trucking company hauling the modular unit that hit the overpass could pay at least part of the share to fix it.

That company, Fairbanks-based Bighorn Enterprises, on Thursday issued a statement apologizing for monumental traffic delays and blaming a customer for problems with the load.

The top of the module hit the bottom of the Artillery Road Bridge in Eagle River. Authorities concerned about falling chunks of concrete closed the southbound highway. It's expected to remain shut down for three to five days.

The impact pulverized the concrete around a 200,000-pound bridge girder, state officials say. Cracks extend about 40 feet over a lane and a half of highway.

"What's at risk now is it could fall," Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said. "It's incredibly dangerous. We don't even want our employees underneath that."

The damage closed the southbound lanes of the only road connecting Mat-Su and Anchorage, where roughly a third of employed Mat-Su residents work. Thursday's commute started with an epic traffic jam, as thousands of drivers from the Valley funneled onto a detour through Eagle River that took hours to navigate.

Bighorn Enterprises issued a statement Thursday evening apologizing "to the citizens of Anchorage and Mat-Su for the inconvenience and disruption to their lives and their commute."

The DOT early Thursday morning requested $1.8 million for the emergency repairs.

Investigators with the transportation department's commercial enforcement division will determine whether Bighorn faces any penalties.

But the agency "on a regular basis" files insurance claims against entities involved in crashes that damage state infrastructure, McCarthy said. The state will compare what happened on site with the conditions of the trucking permit. Findings are typically forwarded to a judge.

Bighorn Enterprises received a load permit for a height of up to 17 feet, she said. The overpass clearance measures just under 19 feet. The load was required to have an amber beacon and "oversize" signage, officials have said, but not a pilot car.

Traffic is backed up on the southbound Glenn Highway on Thursday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Bighorn was moving the module as part of several hundred in a dismantled man camp — temporary housing for workers — bound for Seward, the company said.

Because they varied in size and height, the loads were supposed to be pre-loaded by a customer "in a very specific order," the statement said. "We are continuing to investigate but the early determination is that the load that we picked up and transported on March 21 was not the load that we were expecting or told we were hauling."

The customer was PRL Logistics, according to John Tiemessen, who serves as the company's attorney.

PRL, among other things, is under contract with Alaska Aerospace Corp. to put together a man camp for the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak, according to Craig Campbell, Alaska Aerospace president and CEO. Campbell didn't know if the module that hit the overpass was part of that contract.

A PRL representative said the company had no comment when contacted Thursday.

Bighorn operates 45 vehicles and employs 42 drivers, according to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database. The company had no reported crashes in the past two years and no violations considered "acute/critical" that turned up during inspections.

The administration reported 35 other violations in two years including two for speeding, nine involving brakes, and three for exposed tire-ply or belt material.

It wasn't clear as of Thursday how long the fix would take for the 132-foot-long concrete girder bridge.

Repairs are set to start Friday morning to remove the girder, actually a metal crib filled with concrete.

The work will involve building wooden cribbing up to the height of the bridge, using concrete saws to remove the railing and then punching demolition holes with a backhoe outfitted with a ram, McCarthy said. After the girder is surrounded by straps attached to cranes, the girder will be broken in half and lowered to the ground.

The state has no plans to install a new span right away, McCarthy said.

The change of plans was prompted by the difficulty of getting the "right-sized span" to replace the damaged one, she said. A similar incident in 2010 at the Glenn Highway overpass at Eklutna cost $1.1 million to fix. The beam wasn't replaced for two years.

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