MULLAN — It was kind of like an airport on Thanksgiving weekend.
Drivers had a long and uncomfortable layover east of Wallace on Interstate 90 Thursday night after a semi-truck lost a heavy load that damaged the shoulder and blocked westbound traffic for 12 hours.
The 60-ton load, which contained a generator, came off the truck because of a mechanical failure, according to Idaho State Police. The trucking company is Spruce Hollow Heavy Haul of Abbotsford, British Columbia. The truck was driven by a 48-year-old male from B.C.
One westbound lane was closed until a 200,000-pound crane was called to the scene around 5:30 p.m., closing both lanes at Milepost 63. Setting up the crane and modifying the load so it could be lifted took several hours. The crane lifted the load onto another truck, and it was hauled away from the scene. At that point, the crane had to be disassembled.
No injuries were reported, but Idaho Transportation Department public information specialist Megan Sausser said these lengthy incidents spark plenty of discussion.
“We’ve received some questions as to why during these situations ITD does not pull apart the guardrail to accommodate both directions of traffic on one bound,” she said. “Sections of concrete rail interlock with each other and are also pinned together, making removal extremely time-consuming. Removing multiple sections of guardrail at night and during the winter to accommodate a traffic switch like that could take up to 20 hours in itself and is usually only warranted for multi-day closures. Our goal as always is to reopen highways as safely and as quickly as possible. During winter especially we recommend drivers to check 5-1-1 for current road conditions and updates on crashes.”
In sparsely populated areas along I-90 where there are few off-ramps or places to direct traffic, people have just one choice: To wait.
In emergencies, however, Sausser said communicating with uniformed personnel can help resolve the situation.
“Usually we find a way to funnel someone through,” she said. “Last year we had some kind of crash and we had a surgeon who needed to get through to Montana to perform an emergency surgery and we got him through.”
It all comes down to preparedness, Sausser said. Carry supplies, such as water, flashlights, blankets and snacks, in case of a long stop on the road.
She recommends calling 5-1-1 to know about road conditions, traffic, weather and tourism information. ITD also has cameras across I-90 that drivers can check to see progress of traffic and weather incidents.
“Know before you go,” she advised.
With winter quickly descending upon the region as well, drivers should be extra cautious in snowy and icy conditions.
“We talk about how there’s a posted speed limit. That’s for ideal conditions,” she said. “It’s the driver’s responsibility to drive for the conditions on the road.”
And, Sausser emphasized, drivers who are not distracted are drivers who are least likely to run into trouble. The Milepost 63 incident was not a distracted driving incident, she noted.
“One split second of a driver not paying attention to what they’re doing, and it doesn’t matter how safe the road was,” Sausser said. “At ITD, we have to try to make the roads as safe as possible. We can’t prevent every crash on the road, but we do try. The safest roads are the roads where drivers are engaged in what they’re doing.”
As for the Milepost 63 damage, ITD is still determining the timing of repairs.
“Drivers could see us out there patching it next week, and there could be some follow up work in the spring,” Sausser said. “Regardless, two lanes will be open through the winter.”