Truckers weigh cost of detours

 

Trucks make their way Monday on U.S. 64 near Gore as traffic is routed off of I-40 because of the bridge collapse.

STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World


Oklahoma and Arkansas trucking executives say they are studying whether it is worth additional time and expense to use two-lane detours around the Interstate 40 bridge collapse near Webbers Falls or whether alternate routes make more sense.

Either way, trucking executives say, the six months state officials estimate it will take to rebuild the bridge will delay shipments and increase costs for truckers, their customers and consumers.

How much? It is too early to say, trucking executives and industry officials say.

"It's not going to lower any costs, but it will add distance and costs that somebody will have to pay for," said Robert A. Peterson, president of Tulsa-based Melton Truck Lines Inc., a flat-bed carrier that operates throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. "I-40 is a critical artery of this country, and for commerce moving back and forth, this is a blow."

Peterson, a handful of trucking executives and industry analysts said they are heartened that the state Department of Transportation has pledged to try and fix the bridge within six months. I-40 is one of three major east-west Interstate routes used by commercial trucks.

Traffic is being detoured around a section of I-40 near Sallisaw following the collapse early Sunday of a 500-foot section of bridge crossing the Arkansas River. A barge traveling upstream on the river accidentally rammed the bridge, its pilot possibly incapacitated by a seizure or blackout, officials said.

The westbound detour, along two-lane Oklahoma 10, U.S. 64 and Oklahoma 100, is about 12 miles long and takes 30 to 50 minutes, trucking executives said. The 40-mile eastbound detour takes up to two hours along Oklahoma 2, Oklahoma 9 and U.S. 59.

David McCorkle, owner of McCorkle Truck Lines in Oklahoma City, chairman of the Oklahoma Trucking Association and chairman of the board of the American Trucking Association, helped work out the detours Sunday. He said 20,000 vehicles a day -- a third of them commercial trucks -- use I-40 and the bridge that collapsed.

"We took two lanes westbound on the Interstate and moved them north on two lanes (state highways), and we moved the two eastbound lanes south," McCorkle said. "By doing it that way, traffic is moving slower but we don't have the congestion and stoppages we would have if we dumped all that traffic on one detour."

Doug Pielsticker, president of Arrow Trucking Co., 4230 S. Elwood Ave., said the detours will cost his drivers time. Safety also is a concern, he said.

"When you have an 80,000-pound truck and you have to stop it all the time, it's clearly a less safe operating environment," Pielsticker said.

Jon Bergstrom, Arrow's vice president of operations, said the company for the time being is routing trucks around the bridge and detours. Eastbound traffic from Tulsa is using U.S. 412 to Springdale, Ark., then Interstate 540 south to I-40 and Fort Smith, he said.

"It's 70 miles further, and right now it's coming off our bottom line," Bergstrom said. "We'll have to look, as we route around it, about passing the extra cost onto customers."

Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the downed bridge and detours just add to the woes of east- and westbound truckers who already have to endure single-lane traffic due to construction on a third of the 300 miles between Fort Smith and Memphis.

"This tragedy is significant because it points to the essentiality of the nation's interstate highway system," Kidd said. "Trucking companies will adjust, take other routes, but it will not be without headaches. It definitely is not business as usual."

Jerry Orler, president of USA Truck Inc., Van Buren, Ark., which is located along I-40 about 70 miles east of Webbers Falls, said his drivers haven't had many problems, particularly westbound.

"In the scheme of things, when a guy is on a 10- or 12-hour run, it's a delay that's unpleasant, but it's not so unpleasant that you would take a completely different route," Orler said. "The biggest thing is the time that the bridge will be out. They're saying six months, but I think that's pretty optimistic."

D.R. Stewart, World business writer, can be reached at 581-8451 or via e-mail at don.stewart@tulsaworld.com .