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Crane Collapse Shuts Down Tappan Zee

Thursday, July 21, 2016

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Injuries were reported and traffic came to a standstill mid-day Tuesday (July 19) when a construction crane collapsed onto the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York.

The crane, in use on construction of the Tappan Zee’s replacement alongside the current span, fell across the existing bridge deck around noon, blocking all lanes, numerous sources said. 

Although the crane did not fall onto any vehicles on the bridge at the time, three travelers were injured in a two-car accident while maneuvering to avoid the equipment, area news site reported.

Two construction workers at the site, including the crane operator, also suffered minor injuries in the incident.

The cause of the collapse remained unknown Wednesday (July 20) afternoon, however an investigation is underway. Officials currently do not believe wind was a factor.

Routine Work, New Equipment

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was called to the scene from a media event, told The Journal News, that the crane was using a vibratory hammer to drive pilings for the New NY Bridge into the riverbed when it "had an issue" that resulted in the boom falling onto the Tappan Zee deck.

It was reportedly one of 28 cranes operating at the time, and it was involved in work described as routine.

“This was not one of the high-risk operations of bridge building,” Cuomo told The New York Times.

“Sometimes equipment breaks and sometimes accidents just happen, as simplistic as that sounds,” Cuomo noted at an afternoon briefing.

The crane, which was reportedly only recently purchased, was a Manitowoc Cranes MLC 300 with a 256-foot-long boom, according to Jeff J. Loughlin, business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 137, which represents the crane’s operator.

Loughlin added that the crane operator remained on site afterwards with a union representative and will undergo drug and alcohol testing.

He later told the Associated Press/NBC New York that the worker has a 20-year history as a crane operator and a clean safety record.

Eyewitness Accounts, Miraculous Miss

Witnesses to the event told ABC 7 Eyewitness News that the crane started falling slowly before crashing down onto the travel lanes.

Nicholas D'Emealio, who was in a car about 300 yards from the crane, told the local news station that he heard a bang before the driver had to hit the brakes.

"It shook the whole bridge," he said. "At first I thought the bridge was collapsing because this is not a good bridge."

Truck driver Irving Martinez told The New York Times that, from his vantage point about a quarter mile away, “The crane was rotating normally and then it just suddenly fell sideways onto the highway. It was out of nowhere.”

"When I first heard this news my heart stopped," Cuomo said in the afternoon briefing. “If there’s a silver lining in this situation it’s that nobody was seriously hurt.”

He also called the near-miss "nothing short of a miracle."

Loughlin agreed, stating: “It’s a miracle that the boom fell across six lanes of traffic, cars that are doing 60 to 70 miles an hour, and not one car was hit by the boom.”

Cleanup and Investigation

Crews spent much of the afternoon dismantling the equipment to remove it from the roadway so that bridge inspectors could analyze any damage, The Journal News said.

All but one of the seven lanes had reopened to traffic by Wednesday morning (July 20). Only the Westchester-bound right lane remains closed by officials, sources said.

Damage to that lane, described as a “punch through” hole, will likely keep it out of service for several more days, according to Rockland County Executive Ed Day. The outside guardrail also suffered a break there, and “significant repairs” would be needed for structural damage beneath that side of the bridge, he said.

Road plates covered minor damage in other areas to allow for travel.

As the investigation begins, the focus is spread between mechanical problems and operator error, Terry Towle told The Wall Street Journal. Towle is president of Tappan Zee Constructors, the design-builder on the New NY Bridge project.

“It’s one of three issues,” he said. “It’s a problem with the crane, it’s a problem with the hammer or it’s operator error. And that’s what the investigation will look at.”

Towle confirmed that the crane was new and hadn’t exhibited any problems to date.

Loughlin added that, because the crane was new, the manufacturer’s reps were also on site.

Construction Safety

The nearly $4 billion New NY Bridge will be a 3.1-mile twin span cable-stayed bridge with angled main span towers.

Tappan Zee Bridge construction
New York State Thruway Authority

The $3.9 billion New NY Bridge project, replacing the neighboring Tappan Zee Bridge, is slated for completion in 2018. This photo shows construction progress as of June 24.

It is the single largest bridge construction project in New York’s history, according to the Tappan Zee Constructors website, and, because it crosses the widest part of the Hudson River, it is also one of the most challenging.

Despite the challenges, Tappan Zee Constructors was recognized in May as one of the safest construction ventures in the country.

At that time, the total recordable incident rate was 0.63 percent per 100 employees—which was five times lower than the national average of 3.5 percent for a construction project of its size.

The site was able to keep its accident rate low, despite boasting more 1,200 workers putting in 6 million man hours over two shifts, seven days a week largely over the river surface, the builder said.

"From day one, from 2013 to present – 21 incidents," Project Safety Manager Daryl Lloyd said at the time.

"To have … basically one incident every three months is amazing, considering the type of work we do out there and the challenges we are facing," he added.

The bridge is slated for completion in 2018; officials reportedly do not think Tuesday’s collapse will affect the project's timetable.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Asia Pacific; Bridges; Cranes; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health & Safety; Infrastructure; Latin America; North America; Safety; Transportation

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (7/21/2016, 10:54 AM)

Unless by acts of god, crane accidents are totally preventable. Investigation will reveal one or more of the following conditions: Crane defects, lack of inspection/maintenance, unqualified operators/riggers, inadequate or poor crane management program and/or inadequate oversight of same. Good lessons learned should result.

Comment from Fred Wittenberg, (7/21/2016, 6:23 PM)

What is it with the State of New York, as they seem to have more crane collapses than the rest of the country combined?

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