BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The view from the southeast embankment at the 100th Street overpass shows the close shave many truckers experience as they’re headed north on US-131.
“This bridge is the lowest one on 131. The lowest,” trucker Joe Seif said as he filled up at a nearby truck stop.
Truckers say the southern Kent County bridge, which has been hit several times this year by trucks carrying tall loads, is in dire need of an upgrade.
It’s among several Michigan bridges built before modern 16-foot clearance standards were set. According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, all of those bridges have been getting hit: About 30 times so far this year. The 100th Street bridge accounts for 11 of those hits — not counting those not reported to MDOT.
“Sometimes they’re skim jobs — it gets nicked. A lot of times they’re direct hits,” MDOT spokesman John Richard said.
On Thursday, MDOT announced an effort to cut down on the number of trucks hitting the 100th Street bridge deck. Along with warning signs that give drivers a chance to exit the highway and numerous advisories, Michigan State Police are increasing patrols in the area.
Troopers are looking for over-height loads, but admit they’re tough to spot.
“Unless it’s egregiously over height, it’s nearly impossible. Especially add the fact that the vehicles are traveling at 60 to 65 miles per hour,” Lt. Brad Cushman of MSP’s Commercial Enforcement Division said.
So far, no one has been seriously hurt in a collision. The most damage was caused in January after trucks with high loads damaged the façade of the bridge over the northbound lane. 100th Street was recently reopened after a section of the bridge was fixed at a price tag of $260,000. The cost was covered by the truckers’ insurance.
MDOT officials say the problem isn’t so much the height of the bridge, but rather the truckers who keep hitting it.
“Inexperience, not paying attention, and total negligence,” Richard listed. “The one about two weeks ago, the trucker told police he said he thought his load height was 13-6, and he hit a spot in the bridge that was 14-7. So, way off.”
While the bridge is low for modern standards, MDOT officials say planning would alert trucks to the lower bridges. And any truck with a load over 13-foot-6 is required to get a permit.
“In each case with 100th Street, it’s either been a permitted trucker that was off route or they had no permit at all,” Richard said.
Richard believes it all comes down to who’s being hired to haul.
“The theory is, it’s a booming economy and (companies) just can’t keep up with experienced drivers, so they have to hire a lot of in experienced drivers,” Richard said.
Trucker Joe Seif sees the dilemma from both sides.
“People need product, people need delivery, and if they don’t get it, they’re going to be mad. People are hiring whoever they can get. At the same time, this is way overdue,” Seif said, referring to both the trucker shortage and the outdated 100th Street span.
Later this year, MDOT will do some resurfacing work to add a couple more inches’ clearance under the bridge.
There is a plan on paper to replace the bridge with a higher one as early as 2020, but that depends on state funding, so a replacement could actually be further down the road.