What\'s Breaking Down Bridges?
Hank Investigates: What's Breaking Down Bridges?
- Hank, in the newsroom, showing images of a truck
"This truck driver's day just came to a screeching halt."
The bridge he just drove over is in critical condition, so the weight limit here is six tons. However, the scales prove this truck is too heavy.
- Officer Jack Albert, Cambridge Police
"He's 3950 over."
Police give the driver a ticket. The bridge in case is crumbling and disintegrating, and is off limits to big rigs.
- Officer Jack Albert
"It's a serious situation and they want us here as much as possible to keep heavy trucks off."
It's serious because the state's aging bridges are posted with weight limits to prevent heavy trucks from destroying them. Our investigation found that in most towns, stops like this do not happen very often at all. Truckers ignore the signs and state officials know it.
"So now the trucks are just getting away with it."
- Matt Amorello, State Highway Department
"I would say that probably happens every day in Massachusetts."
And they know when signs are ignored something like this can happen:
- Hank, showing an image of a collapsed bridge
"Without overweight trucks would that bridge have collapsed? "
- Tom Broderick, Chief Engineer, Mass Highway Dept.
"The last straw was probably the heavy vehicles going over the bridge."
Luckily for Kevin Loughlin, it happened in broad daylight--the Lees Bridge in Concord collapsed last month right in front of his truck.
To prevent more risky rides, the Massachusetts Highway Department sent a warning letter to towns with posted bridges. It says:
- "It is critical that every effort be made to ensure that weight restrictions are vigorously enforced."
However, our investigation found many towns with posted bridges say the letter request is just unrealistic.
- Police Chief
"Given the state of law enforcement, it's just a physical impossibility."
Here's why: state police explain, for an overweight truck citation to hold up in court, the truck has to be weighed on a scale--like the one the state police truck team uses in it's surprise roadside inspections. But the list of towns with posted bridges reaches a number of 680; the problem, we found, is that only a handful of towns have purchased the expensive scales.
- Trooper Paul Sullivan
"Bottom line, the local police officer, without scales, is out of luck when it comes to weight enforcement."
- Hank, showing an overweigh tuck crossing a posted bridge
"Officials know: this is the result."
After watching for five minutes we saw at least four different trucks cross a bridge in Dover. Town Officials said they all looked over the limit, but without scales there was nothing they could do.
- Craig Hughes, Director of Field Operations, Town of Dover
"I'm concerned--it's a very dangerous bridge, I believe."
In Concord too, when suspiciously heavy trucks cross over, town officials can only watch.
"If you wanted to weigh that could you?"
- Ken Kalinowski, Concord Town Engineer
"We'd have to weigh it."
- "Do you have scales?"
"Can you possibly stop all the overweight trucks from going over this bridge?"
- Ken Kalinowski
"Not without shutting the road."
"Local law enforcement officials tell us they say they just can't do what your letter asks."
- Highway Commissioner
"No they can't be on every bridge 24 hours a day, monitoring it, they can send a signal out to let folks know they are taking enforcement serious on these matters."
But our investigation found that only 129 citations were given last year for bridge violations statewide--and most of those by the state police truck team on roadside inspections
So truck drivers know the chances of being nailed are slim, and they simply ignore the signs.
- Truck driver
"There are one way streets we've got to get to somehow, so you've got to go over a bridge you're not supposed to."
Police say that's gambling with public safety. What if you were a passenger on a train crossing a bridge and it suddenly gave way?
- Officer Jack Albert, Cambridge Police
"You're waiting for that next bump to jar something loose, to the point where it's going to come down. God forbid you don't have a passenger train that's coming through here."
And Kevin Loughlin knows that could happen to anyone.
- Kevin Loughlin
"They will fall in, and the potential for life loss is great."
Right now, when local police see a heavy rig on a bridge, all they can do is have the suspect truck stand by while they call in the state police truck team to weigh it. That can work, but most agree it's not the most efficient way to solve the problem.