CINCINNATI (AP) – A highway where an overpass collapsed during demolition work left one worker dead and a tractor-trailer driver injured was cleared of concrete and steel on Tuesday and reopened, but police were left wondering what the casualty toll might have been had the accident occurred amid heavy traffic.
The removal of tonnes of debris from Interstate 75 began Tuesday afternoon and was completed by night time, allowing the closed southbound lanes to reopen to traffic. Minor repairs were made, the state Department of Transportation said.
Casualties could have been much higher had the late-night collapse happened at a busy time on the interstate, which carries more than 178,000 vehicles a day through the area five miles (eight kilometres) north of the Ohio River, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said.
Authorities identified the worker who was killed as Brandon William Carl, of Augusta, Kentucky. Fire officials said his body was recovered from rubble with the help of air bags and special equipment early Tuesday morning, about four hours after the accident.
The tractor-trailer driver, Eric J Meyers, of Howell, Michigan, slammed into the overpass as the debris landed. He was taken to a hospital with what were described as minor injuries.
A caller to the emergency dispatcher, Greg Turner, identified himself as an employee of the construction company at the site and said he witnessed the bridge collapse.
“We were taking the bridge down – it just collapsed,” Turner said, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The call was made just after 10.30pm Monday, and police responded to the scene reporting a “major” collapse minutes later.
Transportation officials said heavy equipment was being used to separate the concrete deck from structural steel when the span fell. Gary Middleton, an acting deputy director of the transportation department, said it was a “routine operation” being carried out by a major contractor.
Westerville-based Kokosing Construction was doing the demolition under a nearly $91 million contract for a three-year project meant to improve traffic capacity and safety in a busy stretch of I-75. The company had a good safety track record, federal regulators said.
The cause of the accident is under investigation. Kokosing didn’t immediately respond to messages left Tuesday.