When truck straps snap – Sarasota Herald

Their efforts spared the region another day of backed-up traffic, accidents, detours and drivers’ frayed nerves.

But the crews’ quick work shouldn’t overshadow the troubling cause of the traffic nightmare: For the second time in six weeks, a driver of heavy construction equipment on I-75 severely damaged an overpass.

Those twin mishaps should prompt the Florida Department of Transportation to review its rules governing heavy equipment and the drivers who transport it.

This week’s damage occurred when a pile-driver cushion — weighing three to five tons — fell off a semi-trailer crossing the southbound overpass just before noon Monday. The equipment punched several holes through the roadbed, causing concrete to rain onto University Parkway below.

Fortunately, no one was injured by the equipment or the falling roadbed. A 19-year-old passenger was killed, however, when the car she was riding in struck another car stopped near the overpass and flipped over.

The damage and the ensuing repairs to the overpass temporarily closed both I-75 southbound and University, though I-75 reopened to a single lane of traffic by Monday afternoon. Traffic was detoured onto nearby roads and slowed to a crawl.

‘Evasive action’

The Florida Highway Patrol reported that the damage occurred when the semi-trailer driver swerved to avoid slower traffic. The “evasive action” caused the tie-down straps holding the equipment to break, sending the equipment crashing onto the roadway.

“A vehicle of that size is not made to make those type of movements,” FHP Trooper Kenn Watson told Herald-Tribune reporter Elizabeth Johnson.

But, that being the case, one question is: Why did the driver of a huge truck — carrying equipment weighing several tons, with other vehicles nearby — put himself in the position of having to take “evasive action”?

Another question is: Why was this extremely heavy equipment secured by straps, rather than more heavy-duty restraining devices?

The trucker was charged with careless driving, and he, the trucking company and its insurer will be responsible for the costs of the repairs.

Yet, FDOT should look beyond the immediate cause and culpability and examine whether its rules in such cases are sufficient to ensure public safety.

The dump-truck crash

Questions of the adequacy of safeguards also arose after the earlier I-75 incident.

On Dec. 18, a driver drove a dump truck with the bed fully raised on southbound I-75 in south Sarasota County, striking and severely damaging the Ponce De Leon Boulevard overpass. Traffic was tied up for days.

The driver in that case was found to be illegally operating the truck, because his license had been revoked after a previous arrest for driving under the influence. In the I-75 crash, he was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a commercial license.

The driver was a subcontractor for a Colombian company, Conalvias Construction, that FDOT hired to widen a nine-mile section of I-75. FDOT said at the time that it neither has qualification requirements for nor oversight of subcontractors on its projects.

Yet, to prevent similar accidents, the agency should determine whether it requires sufficient alerts in dump trucks to warn the drivers that the bed is raised.

Accidents will happen, but when they happen on an interstate, involve heavy equipment and affect thousands of drivers, the dangers and the costs multiply. Next time, hard-working, efficient crews may not be enough to bail out the region and the FDOT.