Process underway to recover costs from damaging bridge strike

Friday, April 6, 2018 - 10:37
  • The roof of a modular unit rests in the middle of the Glenn Highway at the Artillery Road Bridge after a modular ATCO style unit being transported on a trailer struck the overpass on March 21. The state estimated costs to repair the bridge at $1.8 million, but based on past incidents, it likely won’t get that much from the insurance company for the trucker hauling the load. (Photo by Bob Hallinen of the Anchorage Daily News)

The state doesn’t always make out so well in recovering costs when infrastructure is damaged from incidents such as the March 21 strike on the Artillery Road Bridge that officials feared could lead to a collapsed overpass on Alaska’s busiest highway.

Department spokeswoman Jill Reese said there is a well-established process in place for attempting to recoup costs from the insurance provider for companies like Big Horn Enterprises of Fairbanks, whose driver was at the wheel when the oversized load crashed into the bridge.

Charges were filed March 24 against the still unnamed driver for causing an estimated $1.8 million in damages when his load scraped off a girder of the Artillery Road overpass, said DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy. The load was under contract haul for another company, William Scotsman Inc. of Anchorage, according to DOT. The driver’s name was not made public because the charge is not criminal.

The company obtained the permit to haul the modular unit — part of a larger man camp — from Wasilla to Seward’s freight dock. The customer is contracted to provide a man camp for the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, though a complex official couldn’t confirm last week whether the unit was bound for the rocket-launch facility, according to reports in the Anchorage Daily News.

The permit called for a maximum speed of 45 mph and barred travel in the “Anchorage urban area” during particularly congested drive times from 7 a.m. until 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. until 6 p.m. It allowed for a unit up to 85 feet long, width up to 10 feet 6 inches, and height up to 17 feet.

The clearance of the overpass the load crashed into was 17 feet, 6 inches, DOT now says.

An attorney for Bighorn said the company had no comment on the driver’s citation. The Municipality of Anchorage will be prosecuting the misdemeanor citation.

DOT’s Reese said a claim will be filed against the insurance company for Big Horn Enterprises to recover as much of the final estimated costs as possible. “Bridge strikes” are not uncommon and a recent case in point was the Eklutna Bridge near the Village of Eklutna.

That bridge has been a frequent spot for over-height truck hits going back to 2006, according to a University of Alaska study that led to installing alarms on the bridge to alert for oversized loads.

In 2010, two separate bridge strikes damaged the structure.

“One was in the northbound land and one was in the southbound lane,” Reese said.

A bridge strike that occurred that July involved a truck hauling a large excavator. Chunks of bridge flew off in the collision, resulting in damage to vehicles traveling nearby but not to drivers, according to news reports at the time. It involved closing down one of the Glenn Highway northbound lanes while extensive debris was cleaned up.

Both accidents occurred during the summer and were treated for repairs as one project. It wasn’t completed until 2013, Reese said.

“The insurance claims were handled through the (attorney general’s) office,” Reese said. “Like any owner that gets a settlement, it works like any other insurance claims adjustment. They look at estimates for replacing the bridge.”

A negotiation process between the state and the insurance company determines what gets paid, Reese said.

“They may say, ‘Oh, we don’t think it needs to be replaced and we can offer you this amount.’ There’s the back and forth until you decide whether you want to settle or prosecute,” Reese said.

In the Eklutna case, two different insurance companies argued the cost DOT claims. The final bill for fixing the bridge came to $628,000 but the state was only able to recover $485,000 total from the insurance companies, Reese said.

“The bottom line in the negotiation is that if you don’t want to settle for this amount then we’ll go to court. Then courts have to decide what are the damages,” she said.

In the long run, “it’s less expensive to settle if you get a reasonable offer than if you go to court because it’s so expensive and you don’t know the outcome at that point.”

So far, the damage to the Eagle River Bridge is thought to be in the neighborhood of $1.8 million. But DOT will need to make further estimates to reach the final figure.

Then begins the negotiations with the insurance company, she said. And it may take a few years.

Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].

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