Is Detroit crash a warning for Maryland bridges?
Collapsed overpass blocks Interstate 75 after tanker fire brought it down outside Detroit.
We tend to think of our highway infrastructure as being permanent and impervious to the idiocy of the people that use it, but an incident that took place near Detroit Wednesday shows just how vulnerable it could be.
In that crash, an overpass on Interstate 75 collapsed after a three-vehicle crash involving a tanker truct, a tractor-trailer and a passenger car. It seems the 27-year-old driver of the car lost control of the vehicle while going about 70 mph on a curve with a speed limit of 50 mph. According to news reports, thhe vehicle swerve into a tanker and broke the connection between the cab and trailer to come apart. The fuel in the tanker caught fire and the bridge was soon history.
The incident reminded me of a well-known local bridge with a pronounced curve where drivers are often inclined to race across at speeds of 70 mph or more. If you guessed the Bay Bridge, you're on the money.
I asked Lesli Leath, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transortation Authority, if there were any restrictions on fuel trucks on the Bay Bridge or other toll bridges in the state. The answer: No. (There are restrictions on bringing hazardous cargo throough the harbor tunnels.)
Certainly the chances of a catastrophic crash severely damaging a bridge are extremely small, but it would be worth examining whether its makes sense to take the slightest chance with the Bay Bridge in particular. It's arguably Maryland's most valuable transportation asset, and the disruption that would folllow from long-term damage to either span would be enormous.
The northern routes around the top of the bay are now far more robust than they were in decades past. Wouldn't it make sense to route fuel trucks up that way? Or at least require police escorts, as the authority does now for high-grade explosives and radioactive material. At least these are policies the authority board should consider. Let the engineers war-game some worst-case scenarios and examine what the consequences would be.
It would also be refreshing if the board were to grow a spine and ask the General Assembly to authorize the use of speed cameras on its bridges and in its tunnels. I've also long advocated enhanced fines for traffic violations at these facilities. It's a matter of protecting the crown jewels of Maryland transportation. That's all the rationale that's needed.