Northbound I-35 temporarily closed in Downtown Austin after truck collides with bridge

(Photo credit: CBS Austin)

Traffic stalled on I-35 for nearly an hour Tuesday after a semi-truck hit a bridge in downtown Austin near 12th Street. Debris from the load the truck was carrying flew into the roadway. It took three hours for all lanes of I-35 northbound to reopen.

The Texas Trucking Association says trucks hitting bridges is happening more often. They say it’s likely a reflection of the increased quantities of freight traveling through Texas.

“Maybe they're new drivers. Maybe they're not familiar with driving as much and they run across situations such as this,” says Texas Trucking Association President and CEO John Esparza. He says it’s an even bigger problem in west Texas.

“A combination of more trucks out there and a big awareness issue, I believe,” Esparza says.

In late June, TxDOT activated new pre-warning technology intended to give oversized trucks a critical heads up. The sign and corresponding flashing light is installed on I-35 near the Cesar Chavez bridge. When an over-height truck comes through, sensors trigger warning lights directing the driver to exit.

Esparza says the association supports utilizing technology and deploying it in a way that can assist the driver, however he says, “At the end of the day it is still the driver-- even with the sign blinking a driver can get very distracted,” he says. Esparza explains, cell phones aren’t a distraction—phone used was restricted by trucking companies in 2006—but staying alert and knowing your routes and surroundings can be distracting for drivers in unfamiliar areas.

Next legislative session expect to hear conversations about state funding for more fixes to brides and alert systems. Many of the state’s lower, older bridges are slated for replacement but it’s a process that takes both time and money.

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