LAVINA — A railroad overpass bridge near Lavina was struck by a semi carrying an oversized load on Jan. 15, and repairs will close a portion of US Highway 12 on Saturday.
The Lewistown Maintenance Chief for the Montana Department of Transportation, Ken Hamblen, said on Friday that the road is only expected to be closed completely for four hours. The repairs are being done by a company contracted by BNSF Rail.
“The closure is going to be on US 12 at mile marker 139.9 between Ryegate and Lavina. What they’ve been doing is it’s been down to one lane. We open the road every two hours on the even hour to let traffic through. There is traffic control set up at Lavina and at Harlowton, basically letting drivers know there is a two-hour delay. It gives them the opportunity to choose an alternate route,” Hamblen said. "They’re going to need both lanes to be able to do that repair. So they asked if they could have a four-hour closure to do that. So that’s going to start tomorrow morning, at 8 a.m. and should be completed by noon. Then they will go back to the two-hour openings at noon."
But this isn't the first time this overpass has been struck, and residents fear it won't be the last.
Shelli Roufley lives just south of Lavina but is on the road constantly for her job as a truck driver.
“My grandkids used to live in Ryegate so I would drive over there when I was home to see my grandkids,” Roufley said by phone on Friday. “There is no signage and there hasn’t been."
Roufley explained the bridge was also struck in 2021 by a truck hauling a crane, and she blames the lack of signage on the accidents. She said adding signage might help bring that number down.
“After it was shut down for weeks (in 2021), you would think at this point it would be foreseeable that a simple sign would alert drivers that they’re not gonna fit if they’re over whatever the height is,” Roufley said. “I know that I look at every bridge that I go under. I look at the height. It’s very rare, unless it’s one of the mega overpasses, that you don’t have a height posted on a bridge going over the highway."
But Hamblen disagrees and said this is a rare problem.
“I’m not really concerned about it happening again. There’s several oversized loads that come through Central Montana. As long as people look at their permits, they should be just fine,” Hamblen said.
Hamblen said these two incidents were caused by driver error.
"The first incident that was back Labor Day in ’21, it was a truck hauling a crane. They didn’t realize their boom was up in the air, Hamblen said.
“The one that hit on the 15th, his permits basically had him coming up through the Lewistown Bypass. That structure is 14 foot 6, I believe he was 15 foot 9. He didn’t follow his permits."
According to Hamblen, these instances are so rare, he can't recall the last time this occurred beyond these two incidents.
“Prior to that, I’ve been over in Lewistown now for almost eight years and that’s never happened since I’ve been here,” Hamblen said. “It truly is the truck driver’s responsibility to know exactly where his load is going and which routes to take. So to me, there really is no excuse for somebody to hit that, especially when the permits specifically state where to go.”
Hamblen said the bill for these repairs will be covered by BNSF's insurance—and should be complete on Saturday.
“I spoke with BNSF yesterday. It sounded like things were going very very well for them. They are anticipating that they should be able to finish tomorrow night. So I’m pretty hopeful that they will have the repairs completed by then,” Hamblen said. “If folks don’t have to go that way, it’s probably best right now. That way they don’t have to be in there and be held up as well. It's not too far if they go out and around, so they can do that."
To learn more about the closure, click here.
“There is not signage posted on that bridge,” Hamblen said. "If people look at their permits, I am not concerned about it."