Kuzitrin River Bridge blocked by truck and excavator
An excavator towed on a semi truck struck a cross member on the Kuzitrin River Bridge on Sunday, Sept. 24 and the ensuing pile-up has blocked the bridge ever since.
As of Tuesday afternoon crossing the bridge in a vehicle was not possible.
“Sunday we were notified that a truck with an over height load had damaged the portal to the bridge,” said Meadow Bailey, spokesperson for the Alaska State Department of Transportation.
There were no injuries.
A bridge inspector and a Commercial Vehicle Enforcement officer from Fairbanks are travelling to Nome to take a look at the bridge. “The goal would be to remove the equipment without doing further damage to the bridge,” said Bailey.
As of press time on Tuesday, it’s known that Mike Benchoff was driving a semi truck loaded with another trailer and an excavator. From photos supplied by Wendy Deering it appears that the excavator was pushed sideways off its perch on trailer.
Deering, who was on the bridge as it happened, reported hearing “a big thud” followed by a shaking on the bridge and lots of sparks flying. “It was pretty scary,” she said in an email to the Nugget.
“It was really scary because it was getting dark and at the time I didn’t know his load wasn’t going to clear the space,” wrote Deering in her email. “I hadn’t even known what he was carrying, my only concern was to get out of it’s way so he could pass. There were three of us on the middle of the bridge and my brother Burl Johnson was the closest to the crash site, he was on the side of the bridge on the front.”
“We heard a loud crashing thud, followed by the bridge shaking pretty hard and then saw sparks where the excavator arm got stuck behind that bridge beam. My nephew was afraid the bridge may collapse so we hurriedly got off of it while Mike got out of his truck to try to check to see the damage. That’s when I dug out my camera and started taking pictures, and Little Joe Horton showed up and gave Mike the phone to call someone. Don’t know who he called but it was our turn to use it and called for people to come pick us up. We didn’t want to be stranded out there.”
Timothy Smith of the Alaska State Troopers reports that a bridge expert is on his way from Fairbanks to assess the damage. The owner of the truck and the excavator, Benchoff, is attempting to remove the equipment from the bridge.
“We don’t know anything until the experts see this,” said Trooper Smith. He had no comment on issues such as insurance or the filing of charges, saying the dust has to settle a little first.
On Tuesday afternoon AST Sgt. Charlie Cross said that a commercial vehicle enforcement officer from Fairbanks is on the scene with Dept. of Transportation employees.
On Tuesday afternoon the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reported they’d done a flyover of the Kuzitrin River and saw no evidence of any sort of spill or contamination at the bridge site. The plane flew down the river and saw no sheen or other evidence there either.
The Kuzitrin River Bridge is the former Cushman Street Bridge from its days spanning the Chena River in Fairbanks. Built in 1917, it was replaced in the early 1950s with a concrete span. The original metal bridge, the one now blocked by a truck and an excavator, was disassembled, shipped down the Chena, Tanana, and Yukon Rivers and then barged up the Bering Sea coast to Nome. It was reassembled at its current location on the Nome-Taylor Highway after being hauled the 67 miles in sections.
Just upriver from the bridge at the confluence with the Kougarok River are important subsistence fishing grounds.
During the Gold Rush the Seward Peninsula Railway paralleled what is now the highway, hauling passengers and freight to the interior gold fields.
Some trestles and tracks are still to be seen despite some of the track being sold to Disneyland in the early 1970s.