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ODOT defends route it approved for heavy load, despite crash

ODOT defends route it approved for heavy load, despite crash »Play Video
KATU file photo.

PORTLAND, Ore. - It's been three months since a giant beam fell off a semi-truck on the Marquam Bridge and crushed a car. Amazingly, a woman who was inside that car survived the crash with just an injury to her hand.

Now, we've uncovered new information about what happened, specifically a police report that raises some serious questions. One of the key questions is why a 75,000-pound beam was being transported through downtown Portland during heavy traffic (around 3 p.m.) in the first place.

According to the police report, the route that the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) approved for the truck that day was through the I-5/Southwest Iowa Street construction project. The officer noted that the area is regularly congested from the Terwilliger curves through the city from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday.

An interview with the truck driver indicates the truck's pilot car radioed to him that traffic was "bunching up" ahead of him. He told the officer on the scene that he "slowed to 5 to 10 miles an hour, the load just shifted with the slope of the roadway and slow speed, and over the truck went."

So why would ODOT issue a permit for a delivery like this one on that route during a busy time? And do they have plans to change anything going forward?

"We're not going to change the time they (trucks carrying heavy loads like this) can travel or the routes they can travel because we believe this was a perfect storm that is very unlikely to ever happen again," said ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson. "It's one of those 'Oh My God' things that just isn't going to happen again, unless lightning strikes the same place a second or third time."

Thompson defended the agency's decision to approve the route. He said based on their research, this was the safer route. And he said it was safer than transporting the beam at night because of the visibility for the truck driver. He added that the route was actually safer than one that would have sent the load up Interstate 205.

"We did study it thoroughly," he said. "We also looked at the number of times a load has traveled through this area. A load like that travels through the Portland area approximately 6,000 times a year. We had one incident - we don't want any incidents - but getting rid of that travel path or reducing hours probably doesn't lower the risk enough to change anything. So we're going to continue the way it is, with increased communication between ODOT and the company moving such big things."

Ultimately, police found no fault with the truck driver, his company or ODOT. The police report simply states that heavy traffic forced the truck to slow down.

The woman who was hurt, Dana Buice, said she still has some residual issues from the crash, but her hand is getting better.

She did say that she was nervous recently when she got stuck behind a truck that was carrying a beam like the one that crushed her car.

One look at the picture to the right and you can see why. That's her car crushed between the girder and the bridge.

If you have a story for one of our On Your Side investigators, we want to hear from you. Send an email to investigators@katu.com.