August 03, 2017 04:36 PM
Video footage released by the Minnesota Department of Transportation shows a semitrailer entering the Lowry Hill Tunnel from the east just before 6:30 a.m. Friday and clipping a string of light fixtures attached to the top of the tunnel's wall.
MnDOT spokesman Dave Aeikens said the semi took out 47 cannister lights, each about the size of a cantaloupe. The department has since removed some additional lighting in portions of the tunnel where the fixtures could meet a similar fate.
The transportation department is still assessing the monetary damage caused by the truck.
MnDOT has put out frequent warnings to drivers of trucks weighing 9,000 pounds or more to avoid the tunnel during the roadwork project, which includes lane restrictions and reductions, or face a fine of up to $300. The Minnesota State Patrol said it has added extra patrols in the area to issue warnings or citations to those drivers.
"We really need the trucks to abide by the prohibition," Aeikens said, adding that the department appreciates those truckers who do follow the rules.
Lanes in the tunnel have been reduced from 12 feet to 10 feet in width, and from a total of three in each direction to two during the project.
The day before this footage was captured, Lowry Hill Tunnel Project Engineer Tim Nelson told KSTP that 12 longer tube lights had been damaged by large trucks to that point, and MnDOT had taken down other light fixtures as a preventative measure.
The video footage shows elements of the fixtures raining down on the roadway and trailing vehicles, which slowed to a crawl after the truck went through.
State Patrol Lt. Tiffani Nielson said the agency has yet to identify the driver but is working with the company, JNJ Express Inc out of Memphis, to do so. Nielson said a witness had followed the truck after the incident and taken a picture, which investigators used to identify the company.
The driver could face charges including criminal damage to property, failure to obey signs and hit-and-run.
Aeikens said that once the patrol identifies the driver, MnDOT will work with the company's insurance carrier to get reimbursed.
Replacing the damaged cannister fixtures will not be easy. Aeikens said the Canadian company that made them was purchased by another lighting company, which no longer manufactures the product. In the meantime, the department is discussing solutions to both increase lighting in the tunnel short-term and come up with a viable long-term system that would be replaceable if something similarly damaging happens in the future.
Updated: August 03, 2017 04:36 PM
Created: August 03, 2017 11:23 AM
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