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LA Bridge Closed After Crane Barge Impact

Monday, October 22, 2018

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The Sunshine Bridge, a crucial connection for St. James Parish, Louisiana, was struck by a barge-mounted crane Oct. 12, forcing officials to close the bridge until further notice.

The company that operated the crane barge has reportedly been involved in 27 other bridge accidents within the past five years. A lawsuit regarding the incident has also been filed, alleging that the companies involved in the incident acted with negligence.

What Happened

When the incident occurred, a crane barge struck the metal cantilever truss bridge, which runs across the Mississippi River. Reports allege that the crane was in the upright position, violating the river’s safety rules. Key load-bearing components along the southwest side of the bridge suffered significant damage due to the impact, and repairs are now slated to take months, rather than days. Marquette Transportation was operating the tugboat, named Kristine Alexis.

An official timetable for repairs is yet to be released, noted the Louisiana Departed of Transportation and Development (DOTD). Louisiana highway officials hoped to use at least two lanes along the westbound side of the bridge until repairs could be made, but the span has been deemed unsafe as more issues continue to be discovered.

The mile-and-a-half-long bridge is a vital connection for locals; in 2015, the Sunshine Bridge carried 23,000 vehicles a day. According to Bridgehunter, the Sunshine Bridge was built in 1963, opened in 1964 and is now eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Accidents & Lawsuit

According to local news station WAFB 9, Marquette is listed as an “involved organization” in a number of other allision accidents over the past five years. (“Allision” refers to a ship striking a stationary object, though the term does not indicate if damage was done to the ship or the object or how extensive the damage is.)

Five of the 27 allision incidents were considered by the Coast Guard to be “serious;” these incidents cost hundreds of thousands in damage to vessels, bridges and other structures.

One of the central claims in the lawsuit involved the Oct. 12 incident—filed by Kenneth Frederic, owner of Donaldsonville Glass & Body Works; and Nolan “Billy” Guillot, Jr, owner of local historic restaurant First & Last Chance; among others—is that the crane was in the upright position when it struck the bridge, a move that violated river safety rules. The plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking class-action status in the hopes of representing thousands of potentially affected people. The defendants in the lawsuit are Marquette, its Louisiana subsidiary and unnamed employees working for a company that is simply listed as “ABC Employee(s)."

Sean McLaughlin, a maritime law attorney working with firm Kean Miller LLP, told The Advocate that affected parties don’t really have any recourse, as they do not own the thing that was physically damaged. He went on to cite a 100-year-old law, known as the Robins Dry Dock rule, that protects operators from liability for economic losses. The recent lawsuit also faults the defendants for failing to train employees properly, along with failing to operate the vessel safely.

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the incident. There is currently no time set for the conclusion of the investigation.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Government; Infrastructure; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board); Ships and vessels

Comment from Robert Bullard, (10/22/2018, 12:31 PM)

I was there when the bridge was being built. The project was run by a very capable Rensselaer engineer.. It looks like the only way forward for the users who suffered the loss of use is to have the LA legislature and governor rise to the occasion in their behalf.

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