Truck flips over S-curve on Bay Bridge

November 9, 2009 6:29:57 PM PST
New concerns are surfacing about the safety of the new s-curve on the Bay Bridge after a big rig driver lost control Monday and plunged 200 feet to his death.

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The curve is part of a detour that will be in place for another three years. Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol are in agreement that there is nothing wrong with the curve, just the people on it. They say it is safe if taken at the posted speed limit. They say that if there is a fix, it is finding a way to get people to slow down.

The driver from Hayward was carrying pears from China in his truck when the CHP says he struck the railing on the north side of the upper deck and went over, falling 200 feet to Yerba Buena Island. He was killed on impact.

RAW VIDEO: Caltrans discusses Monday's Bay Bridge accident

"Preliminary information from witness statements would indicate that the driver was driving at excessive speed. That coupled with the possibility that his load shifted, and weight transfer, putting that vehicle over the side," CHP spokesperson Bridget Lott explained Monday.

There have been more than 40 accidents on the detour's s-curve since it opened right after Labor Day weekend. The CHP says those accidents have been equally divided between the upper and lower decks, and daytime and nigh.

To better prepare drivers, Caltrans has been adding more warnings signs and highway dots that alert drivers when they roll over them. But, BART spokesman Bart Ney says there is nothing wrong with the design. He says the problem is speed.

"The design on there is the best possible thing we could do with the location," he says. "It was heavily reviewed with specific analysis from Caltrans, and our contractor and consultants.

Berkeley traffic safety engineer Simon Washington points out that bridge design can be challenging saying, "Bridges are such unique structures that there is just very little that we know about the safety performance of bridges."

Washington says he has been invited by Caltrans to take a second look at the s-curve.

"So, we design transportation systems we think will be safe," he says. "But, in many, many cases, there are issues that come up. We then have to go in afterwards and fix or repair. And, you don't want to do those hastily."

The CHP believes the curve is safe at the posted speed limits of 40 and 35 miles per hour.

"Every day, thousands of motorists are driving this bridge safely and making it to their destinations," Lott said Monday.

Caltrans is planning to add reflective paint striping on the road, radar feedback signs that display how fast drivers are going, and overhead signs similar to exit signs.

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