BELLINGHAM - A section of Meridian Street was closed for more than five hours while crews worked to right a cement truck that struck an Interstate 5 support pillar Thursday, Aug. 28.
The pillar was determined to be sound by a state Department of Transportation bridge supervisor around 2 p.m., clearing the way for crews to try to upright the truck, which had tipped on its side and was blocking a portion of southbound Meridian.
The Bellingham Fire Department ordered Meridian closed from Bakerview Road to McLeod Road after the Ferndale Ready Mix and Gravel truck tipped over and hit the column about 11:10 a.m. Firefighters were concerned the pillar, which supports the northbound I-5 exit ramp to Bellis Fair mall, had been structurally compromised by the crash.
The off-ramp to the mall also was shut down. Traffic backed up around the area, which is among the most heavily traveled in the city.
The truck, loaded with roughly 40,000 pounds of concrete, exited northbound I-5 at Meridian and turned left to head under the freeway. The driver lost control and the truck tipped, scraping the concrete support under the Bellis Fair off-ramp, said Bellingham Police Officer Lewis Leake.
The driver, Michael Endicott, was not seriously hurt.
Endicott said a car in the northbound Meridian lanes had pulled past the stop line and was partly in the intersection when he tried to turn the truck, which he was taking to the ball fields at Squalicum Creek Park. The high-centered load started to tip, and Endicott said everything felt like it was in slow motion.
"It was like watching your life pass before your eyes," Endicott said. "I had to hang on to the steering wheel as it slowly tipped over. I'm glad I had my seatbelt on."
Endicott had to crawl out through the rig's broken windshield after the crash.
He was cited for failure to maintain control of the vehicle, Leake said.
The cement company will be responsible for all cleanup costs, said Bellingham Police spokesman Bob Vander Yacht.
Cars initially were allowed through the intersection, but the Bellingham Fire Department looked at the support and decided to treat the crash damage the same as if the support pillar had been damaged in an earthquake. They called for a state bridge inspector.
DOT Regional Bridge Supervisor Kirk Tullar examined the pillar and, from his visual inspection, gave the OK to remove the truck and reopen the road.
"I've seen a lot of trucks vs. pillars," Tullar said. "The columns always win."
Tullar didn't find any stress cracks in the pillar. The cracks he did see were from shrinkage when the concrete was originally poured and cooled. Those cracks are normal, Tullar said.
Bridge inspectors were expected to arrive late Thursday or early Friday to get a more thorough look at the pillar, though they aren't expected to find any substantial damage.
The southbound I-5 entrance lane that passes under the bridge and freeway could be closed Friday while the engineers inspect the damage, Tullar said.