Barge hits old bridge, closes rails for hours

Published 11:44 am Thursday, July 7, 2011

Train traffic across the old U.S. 80 bridge was stopped for more than three hours early this morning after a barge struck a bridge pier on the Louisiana side, the fourth time the 81-year-old span has been hit this year.

Mississippi Bridge Commission Superintendent Herman Smith said the hit occurred about 12:50 a.m. when a northbound 15-barge tow pushed by the Eagle, owned by Marquette Transportation of Paducah, Ky., scraped the bridge pier.

Marquette tows have been involved in three of this year’s bridge hits.

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Acting Coast Guard Marine Safety Supervisor Mike Bailey said evidence at the scene indicated one barge scraped the pier. He did not release the cause of the accident, saying it remained under investigation.

Smith said rail traffic on the bridge was shut down until about 4:15 while the pier was checked. The initial inspection indicated no structural damage, Smith said, adding the bridge engineer was expected to inspect the bridge again this afternoon.

He said the accident was the fourth time this year that one of the bridges had been struck and the second time since March 23, when 30 southbound Marquette barges broke loose and one hit the bridge became lodged on one of the easternmost piers for 22 days.

Smith said three of the hits involved northbound tows.

“This year is the first time in nine years that the bridge has been hit three times by a northbound tow,” Smith said. “Until this year, we went nine years with only one northbound tow hitting the bridge.”