orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

News

August 3, 2007

Could it happen here? TxDOT: Area bridges safe, collapse not likely

By Ashley Sanders

The Orange Leader



Dennis and Jamie Winegar of Houston were stuck in late rush-hour traffic when the Mississippi River bridge beneath them began to shake. Their nephew yelled, “It’s an earthquake!”

“Then we realized the bridge was collapsing,” Jamie Winegar said. “Boom, boom, boom, and we were just dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Behind the wheel, Dennis Winegar fought to keep the family’s Chrysler 300M under control.

“I slammed on my brakes and saw something in front of me disappear and then my car pointed straight down and we fell.” He estimated they dropped about 50 feet, landing on a smaller car below them.

Frightening images and harrowing tales are continuing to come to light in the wake of Wednesday’s tragic collapse of the 1-35W overpass in Minneapolis, Minn. Along with those images and stories like the Winegars comes the question, could something like this happen in Southeast Texas?

According to Texas Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Marc Shepherd, the answer is no.

“We do rigorous inspections twice a year on all of our bridges,” Shepherd said. “If we find anything that appears it could pose a threat to public welfare, we will shut down a bridge.”

Shepherd said residents should feel safe crossing the 1,400 bridges TxDot oversees in the area’s local eight county district — even the Rainbow Bridge, which was constructed in 1938.

“We send a team of people to inspect the Rainbow and Veterans’ Bridges,” Shepherd said of the structures connecting Bridge City to Port Arthur. “The Rainbow Bridge was reworked in the late 1990s and we continue to maintain safety guidelines. We will never hold off on shutting down a bridge we deem to be dangerous.”

As investigators continued Thursday morning to search for the cause of the collapse and first responders kept up efforts to recover victims from the murky Mississippi waters, the White House released a statement criticizing the oversight of recent inspection findings of the I35 bridge.

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