Slipped joint on U.S. 54 bridge causes camper accident

By Thomas Garcia Quay County Sun

An RV camper struck part of a bridge expansion joint and caused the bridge at Logan on U.S. Highway 54 to shut down four hours on Thursday, state transportation officials said.
�I was driving over the bridge when I saw the joint sticking out about 6-to-8 inches above the road,� said Bill Lange of Wisconsin, who was crossing the bridge about noon. �I had no time to react. The truck was slightly hit but my trailer took the brunt of the blow. I�m just grateful nobody else was on the bridge when it happened.�
After the accident, New Mexico Department of Transportation crews kept traffic off of U.S. 54 in Logan, outside of Tucumcari and San Jon.
Crews worked on the bridge and were able to reopen the eastbound lane to traffic at 4 p.m. Repairs were expected to be completed later Thursday night, officials said.
“It was a 2-foot-by-6-foot aluminum expansion plate that popped up on the bridge,� Carlos Gonzales, NMDOT Maintenance Supervisor, said. �The plate is anchored down by metal. The replacement of the U.S. 54 bridge expansion joints will begin on Oct. 23.�
Some travelers parked on the side of the road at the U.S. 54 and Highway 469 junction, south of Logan, awaiting the bridge�s reopening.
Between 5,800 and 6,000 vehicles pass over the bridge daily, said NMDOT Assistant District Engineer Heather Sandoval.
The U.S. 54 bridge crosses the Canadian River and is the primary route used by thousands of vacationers and residents to get to Ute Lake, and is a main connector throughout the Midwest.
Sandoval said the bridge is inspected every September by New Mexico State University�s Civil Engineering Department. A preliminary inspection Aug. 9, and a more in-depth inspection on Sept. 11 resulted in a grade of �fair.�
�The bridge is structurally sound,� Sandoval said. �A joint popped out on the westbound traffic lane. All the joints are scheduled to be replaced within two weeks. This will not change the bridges �fair� rating for the earlier inspection.�
The bridge is one of four steel-truss bridges ordered to be inspected by Gov. Bill Richardson following the collapse in August of a similarly built bridge in Minneapolis. The bridge�s �fair� rating is described as all primary structural elements being sound but possibly with minor loss, cracking, spalling or scour, according to federal guidelines for bridge inspection.
When Lange�s fifth-wheel camper struck the joint, its two axles were bent, causing the trailer to veer into the oncoming lane, Lange said.
�It bent both axles and broke the springs,� Lange said. �We are getting it patched up to get to Tucumcari. But the trailer will have to be loaded on a flatbed and taken to Albuquerque to be fixed properly.�
When the camper struck the joint, a 2-foot by 6-foot gap was created in the westbound lane, Gonzales, said. A steel plate was to be welded over the gap until the joint can be replaced.
�The bridge will be limited to one lane of traffic until repairs are completed,� Gonzales said.