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Interstate mishap prompts lane closures during repairs

Lanes on Interstate 55 will be closed off and on throughout thenext few weeks after a late Sunday wreck tore off 60 feet ofguardrail just north of Exit 38, authorities said.

Dale Haerr, of Noble, Ill., was southbound on Interstate 55enroute to Metairie, La., around 11:30 p.m. when he lost control ofhis 18-wheeler, which was carrying four 2,000-lb cooling towers.The rig crashed through the median guardrail in the southbound andnorthbound lanes before breaking through the bridge’s guardrail andskidding sideways, taking a large portion of the barrier withhim.

The truck came to rest with the cab and the freight lying in theditch below the bridge, and a portion of the back of the truckstill sticking out over the exit lane.

“I was just hoping I wasn’t carrying someone with me,” saidHaerr, adding that he wasn’t able to see the oncoming traffic andhad no way of knowing if anything had hit the trailer coming fromthe opposite way.

Emergency responders on the scene said Haerr, who refusedtreatment from King’s Daughters Medical Center, was incrediblylucky that he wasn’t hurt.

“The only thought going through my mind as I was going off thebridge was wondering when I was going to stop,” Haerr said.

Mississippi Department of Transportation crews were on the scenefrom shortly after the accident well into the morning while workingto clear the scene and assess the damage.

Superintendent Nubby Case said another lucky aspect of the wreckwas that it took place where there were three lanes, because of theexit ramp. Therefore, one lane could be left open for passingtraffic.

“If it had been at a point that was two lane, we would have hadto close the whole interstate until we could get it taken care of,”he said.

MDOT Bridge Superintendent Toby Ashley said the bridge did notseem to be structurally compromised after the impact, but thatthere would need to be extensive work on the broken sections ofbridge.

“It’d be safe to say a couple of weeks before it’s done,” Ashleysaid.

Case said a temporary guardrail will be constructed in themeantime as a safety precaution.

“We’ll tie down a metal guardrail over there,” Case said,indicating the broken space. “People will look at something, andthey tend to drive toward it. This might not call their attentionso much.”

And with traffic coming to a peak for the Thanksgiving holiday,Case urged caution at the point of the accident.

“Take extra precaution, because there will be work going on herefor some time,” he said. “We’ll have to close off lanes and theholiday traffic might run a little slow in this area at times.”

Case said portions of I-55 northbound and southbound will beclosed periodically until the repair work is done.