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Crash Forces Massive Repair

Truck destroys two utility poles, closing Falls Road for 14 hours.

Falls Road was closed for nearly 14 hours beginning Thursday morning, April 6, after a box truck veered off the roadway and destroyed two utility poles.

The Montgomery County Police confirmed that the single-vehicle accident occurred at 11:25 Thursday morning when the truck, traveling toward Rockville, hit the poles just south of Montrose Road. The driver was not injured in the crash. A full report was not available as of the Almanac’s press time and it is not known whether the driver will be charged.

“I heard a boom,” said J.W. Cuthbert, who lives on Coldstream Drive, separated by small strip of woods from where the accident occurred. “I thought, ‘OK, something’s going on.’”

The two poles, about 100 feet apart, were both broken into multiple pieces, scattering debris across the roadway, but the fallen wires remained intact.

“Smithereens — that’s the word for it,” said Cuthbert, who walked to the scene. “That goddamn thing was in at least three pieces.”

THE MARYLAND State Highway Administration, which controls Falls, closed the road between Liberty Lane and Montrose Road from 11:30 a.m. Thursday until 1:48 a.m. Friday, April 7. A cavalcade of cherry-picker trucks from Pepco and Verizon surrounded the crash site as utility workers installed new poles.

“Basically our shop was on the scene to provide traffic control and let Pepco do their job,” said Chuck Gischlar, a spokesman for State Highway. Northbound drivers had to turn right on Liberty, leading them to Tuckerman Lane. Southbound drivers had to turn left on Montrose.

“We were able to guide people around the scene,” Gischlar said. “It was closed for quite some time as they were trying to put the pole back up. Since it was multiple different services up there on the pole it took a little extra.”

Workers at the scene said that poles along Falls Road carry electric, telephone and cable wires in places, but that only Pepco’s lines were damaged in the crash. The wooden poles that were destroyed were directly beneath Pepco’s high-voltage transmission lines, which were not affected.

PEPCO USED field ties to reroute power around the accident site. It had to shut off service to three residential customers for the duration of the work, according to Robert Dobkin, a Pepco spokesman.

Dobkin could not provide a precise estimate, but said that the cost of the repairs was thousands of dollars, money the company is unlikely to recover.

“We’re trying to work closer with the local police force to provide us the insurance information,” he said, but in the past utilities have frequently been left out of the loop.

“If their company isn’t paying for it, all the customers end up paying for the damage,” he said.

Cuthbert, a retired engineer, spent much of the day watching the utility work. Workers moved deftly among the live wires, frequently throwing down large pieces of debris then hoisting up new fittings.

“These guys are pros,” Cuthbert said. “They’re managing to get everything hooked up and reconnected without disrupting the service. That’s pretty damn good.”

“They do dangerous work there’s no question about it,” said Dobkin. “They’re inches away from death is what it amounts to.”