In the wake of the truck fatality in Maryland in which a truck filled with flammable liquid went off a bridge onto traffic below, attention turns to the overpass from the inner loop of the Beltway to I-95 south. A truck going over the barrier, 120 feet to the highway traffic below, has potential to cause much more damage then the Maryland accident, in which four people were killed. That I-895 overpass over I-95 near Baltimore was only 30 feet high.
Springfield resident Alison Sandler looks at the work on the Interchange on a daily basis, especially the bridge. In August, Sandler was one of the onlookers when the traffic was stopped so the massive steel beams could be put in place.
"It's probably kind of intimidating," she said. "I've been on bridges that were high and been intimidated. When you drive up and see it for the first time, it's amazing."
Although the speed limit on the Beltway and I-95 is posted at 55 miles per hour, it's rarely honored. The long, sweeping curve the bridge takes could be hazardous for a truck doing 70 mph. That stretch of the inner loop right before reaching the ramp to get on the bridge is a downslope, where trucks would be able to pick up speed.
"Because of the curve, I would think there would have to be some posted speed," Sandler said.
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) engineer Charley Warraich does think a posted speed limit would be in order, but he was unsure what it will be. On the bridge, though, there are shoulders that are one full lane wide, and extra high barriers.
The typical barrier is 2 feet 8 inches in height. "There's a tall barrier wall. It's taller, 4 foot 2 inches," said Warraich.
There are standards VDOT adheres to, as well.
"Our design does meet federal highway design criteria," Warraich added.
Steve Titunik, Interchange information specialist, said the safety considerations are their main concern, but motorists must also practice safe driving habits, as well.
"Motorist safety is our most important mission," Titunik said. "What we cannot account for is the motorist that uses the roads. We design in safety up to a point, and then the motorist must take over," Titunik said.
As a motorist, Sandler said safety precautions must be there.
"We [motorists] are responsible, but you can't leave it to that," she said.
According to Larry Cloyed, chief engineer at the Interchange Project, the barriers being used on the bridge are proven.
"The barrier is crash-tested to meet the needs of a conventional vehicle. It [barrier] is substantially higher. We also have a reduced speed of 50 miles per hour," Cloyed said.
With the way the traffic is intended to flow over the bridge, Cloyed noted that if a truck hits the barrier, it will most likely be at an angle, so the barriers will not have to absorb the whole impact.
"There isn't a barrier in the world that I'm aware of that can take a 70,000- or 80,000-pound truck head on," he said.