Ark. bridge, scraped by watercraft, closes briefly

AP News
Posted: Oct 03, 2013 7:22 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A bridge in central Arkansas closed briefly Thursday, roiling afternoon traffic, after a towboat operator reported scraping a protective pier.

Traffic was blocked in both directions for less than an hour at the Interstate 30 bridge that crosses the Arkansas River and connects the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock.

A towboat was traveling upstream when either the boat or at least one of the empty barges it was pushing scraped a pier that protects the bridge's supports. State police halted traffic on the bridge as a precaution. Engineers then inspected the bridge, which reopened sometime before 5 p.m. CDT.

"There were really light scrape marks on the pier protection cell, so there was never any danger to the bridge," said Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

The towboat's operator "said that the wind was pretty fierce out there and it had kind of pushed him and he just barely scraped it," Straessle said.

The operator passed beneath the other bridges in the downtown area — there are a total of six — and intended to stop shy of a lock and dam just west of Little Rock to meet with a pair of investigators traveling to Little Rock from the Coast Guard's office in Memphis, Tenn.

Thursday's incident comes after two runaway barges struck the I-30 bridge's protective piers in August. State police closed the bridge, along with four other spans across the Arkansas River, on Aug. 23 after a towboat operator said he feared his runaway barges may have struck piers. The spans reopened after a state inspector said the bridges themselves were not hit.

The I-30 bridge carries 114,000 vehicles daily.