Garbage truck trashes overpass Drivers on I-40 West in Loudon County can expect some delay

November 29, 2006

LENOIR CITY - Motorists westbound on Interstate 40 in Loudon County can expect indefinite delays because of a lane closure prompted by an overpass damaged by a garbage truck.

Authorities will keep one lane of I-40 at Oak Ridge Exit 364 closed until engineers are clear about the extent of damage to the overpass.

"History shows we'll probably see a backup at peak times," said Travis Brickey, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

The eastbound lanes of I-40 are on a separate overpass and were not affected by the crash Tuesday.

The raised lift arms of a Waste Management Inc. truck struck the overpass about 10:12 a.m., said Lenoir City Police Department Officer Dennis Guider.

Guider said truck driver Warren Sneed, 46, of Knoxville, had left the hydraulic lift arm in the upright position as he drove on U.S. 321 under the I-40 overpass. The Waste Management truck hauls large industrial Dumpsters.

With the lift arm left in the upright position, the metal arm slammed into a nearly inch-thick steel girder that supports the concrete bridge. The impact occurred on the yellow sign that alerts drivers of the 14-foot clearance under the overpass.

"When he hit the beam, it lifted his truck up, breaking the windshield," Guider said. "I think he hit the bottom of the bridge with the front of his truck. If he hadn't been wearing that seat belt, it would have tossed him out."

With the front of the truck lifted, the rear of the vehicle dug a 2-inch-deep, 10-inch-wide gouge in the asphalt before coming down. The metal lift arm snapped in the impact, and the truck continued on for about 400 feet before stopping.

Sneed suffered minor injuries, according to Waste Management Inc. Fleet Manager Alan McFarland. McFarland said Sneed's knees were hurt when jammed into the dashboard by the impact and he had a chest injury where the seatbelt restrained him.

Sneed, who declined to talk about the incident, did not require medical treatment. McFarland said Sneed has driven for Waste Management about 15 years.

Guider chuckled as he recalled Sneed's first words when the officer approached him and asked if he was the driver of the truck.

"He said, 'I'm fired. I probably won't be driving no more,' " Guider said.

Guider said he did not intend to charge Sneed with a traffic violation.

The impact with the girder was so severe the beam was bowed for about 20 feet. The bow was as pronounced as 2 feet in one spot. The blow also ripped a 2-foot-long and wide gash in the metal. Several inch-thick metal bolts securing steel supports were sheared off.

About a ton of concrete chunks fell from the bridge onto U.S. 321, workers estimated. Some of the concrete chunks were a foot long.

Because of the falling debris, Tennessee Department of Transportation officials closed U.S. 321 at I-40. Officers with the Lenoir City Police Department directed hundreds of vehicles to alternate routes to reach Knoxville or Nashville, said LCPD Sgt. Gil Morgan.

At 2:30 p.m., TDOT opened a single lane of four-lane U.S. 321 under the damaged overpass. All four lanes were expected to be opened today after TDOT workers hammered any loose concrete from the bridge that could fall onto vehicles below.

Alan Webb, supervisor of the TDOT bridge inspection team, examined the underside of the bridge and took pictures of the damage. He said that information was sent to Nashville where TDOT engineers will determine if both lanes of the overpass can be opened to traffic.

That determination could take several days, Brickey said.