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BARGE STRIKE DAMAGES I-10 BRIDGE, SHUTS TRAFFIC

This aerial drone photo, furnished by the EPA, shows one of the two barges that struck the I-10 bridge supports, shearing them from the beams above, and totally destroying the structural integrity. The damage can be seen on the columns supporting the westbound lanes of the highway, but TxDOT will send divers and engineers to examine supports of both east and west arteries before deciding whether to reopen them for traffic.

Tropical Storm Imelda brought widespread flooding to many areas to the north and east in Harris County, and bayous and rivers rose rapidly.

In the San Jacinto River, nine barges loaded with petroleum products broke loose from their moorings near the Waste Pits Thursday morning about midnight, and traveled downstream with two of the barges striking support columns of the I-10 bridge over the river.

The extensive structural damage caused TxDOT to close the bridge to all vehicular traffic in both directions, and announced that they would remain closed until the waters receded and the supports could be examined.

With very few alternative east/west routes, a tremendous traffic jam occurred on the east side of the county, affecting thoroughfares and local roads. Alternate routes SH225/ 146/330, and US90 were jammed with traffic that also blocked FM2100 for miles. This condition lasted for six days, until TxDOT decided they could use the eastbound side of the highway for two-way traffic, and re-opened with a concrete divider and new striping for two lanes in each direction.

However, it still is unclear what long term repairs will be required for the damaged spans, and how long this might take. Earlier this year a barge hit and damaged a column, and it took three months for repair work.