Wreck backs up bridge traffic for hours

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 7, 2002

[10/6/02]Frustrations were again high on eastbound Interstate 20 as traffic backed up far into Louisiana Friday when a wreck shut down two lanes of the Mississippi River bridge.

As painting continues on the bridge’s superstructure, vehicles are merged into one lane, the trigger for several of the wrecks.

Friday’s collision, in which one 18-wheeler struck another that had slowed for stopped passenger traffic ahead at about 10:12 a.m., took more than two hours to be cleared.

The rear tractor-trailer truck, driven by Kurtis Hearnsberger, 23, of Louisiana, was carrying 3,000-pound rolls of paper when it apparently skidded close to 200 feet before striking a truck being driven by Leroy Bryant, 60, of Alabama. Hearnsberger was cited for careless operation, Zeigler said.

Late Friday afternoon vehicles 10 miles west of the bridge continued to move at about 25 miles per hour, according to Louisiana State Police trooper Billy Zeigler, who worked the wreck.

“Usually when you block it off and back it up, it takes all day long to clear it out,” said Zeigler, who estimated traffic in those lanes could begin to thin between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday.

The two drivers were the trucks’ only occupants, and neither was injured, Zeigler said.

On Saturday, a five-vehicle pileup there injured three people and also backed up traffic for hours.

Construction also continues at the Louisiana weigh station, about a mile west of the bridge. That project, together with the bridge-painting operation, have meant eastbound drivers face a stretch of highway that narrows to one lane, widens again to two and narrows again to one within about a mile.

That situation is to change within the next few days, said Louisiana Department of Transportation project engineer Marshall Hill.

“Either this weekend or Monday, we’re going to take the gap out,” he said. Barrels will be added, probably this weekend, to close the interstate to one lane from the beginning of the weigh-station construction to the end of the bridge-painting operation, he said.

The speed limit in the construction areas is 45 miles per hour, down from a short 60-mile-per-hour stretch just west of there and 70 miles per hour on the open highway, Zeigler said.

One person caught in the backed-up traffic, Yvonne Garner of Tallulah, said she works in Vicksburg and uses the bridge daily. She was due at work at 11 a.m. Asked whether her supervisor would understand, she said, he also used the same bridge to get back and forth from home to work.

“He’s probably back there,” pointing to the line of traffic that stretched over the horizon.

Hattie Vines, manager of the Interstate Chevron station at the Delta exit, said while the backed-up traffic did help business for a while, in the long run frequent wrecks are bad for her business.

“I get a lot of shoppers from Mississippi,” she said. “They say, If I go across that bridge I may not be able to get back.'”

The U.S. 80 Bridge adjacent to the I-20 bridge has a roadbed, but it has been closed for several years due to a deteriorating roadbed and a shifting pier.