Coast Guard reports damage to Emerson bridge slight, mainly superficial after incident with towboat

Monday, July 14, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com The Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge suffered minor damage Monday morning when a towboat carrying a crane caught the underside of the deck.

U.S. Coast Guard employees were dispatched to Cape Girardeau Monday morning to investigate an incident in which a towboat from the Missouri Barge Line struck the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, damaging the structure slightly.

The incident occurred around 6:30 a.m., according to Lt. Brad Hannon, spokesman for the Coast Guard.

A crane sat atop the towboat, and initial reports indicate the equipment was extended too high on the vessel to be traveling near the bridge, Hannon said.

The crane struck a conduit, causing damage, battalion chief Brian Shaffer of the Cape Girardeau Fire department said.

Hannon referred to the incident as an "allision," meaning one moving vessel struck a stationary structure, as opposed to a collision, which involves two moving objects.

"We respond to all bridge allisions," Hannon said.

Allisions are generally not common occurrences, and Hannon said in two years with the Coast Guard, he couldn't recall one occurring at the Emerson Bridge.

A cursory examination of the bridge revealed damage to a traveler rail underneath the structure used for inspection purposes, said Mike Helpingstine, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

That section will need repairs, as will a high voltage bridge cable that powered the aesthetic lighting on the bridge, Helpingstine said.

The roadway lighting and the navigational lights on the bridge are still working, but the aesthetic lighting is currently not functioning.

MoDOT will likely need to call in an emergency contractor to handle the repairs.

Although a cost estimate was not available, Helpingstine said the job won't be easy, and the cost will likely run high, because the traveler rail used to make these types of repairs was also damaged.

A crew has been mobilized from Jefferson City to perform further inspection today, with the use of a vehicle called a "snooper," that allows workers to inspect areas under the bridge, Helpingstine said.

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