Illinois River closed after vessel hits bridge

No one can drive over the Illinois River at Florence, and river traffic is at a standstill there, too because a barge collided with a drawbridge on the Illinois River.

That accident happened early Saturday morning.

Things haven't changed much here on the Illinois River since Saturday. That's when the tow pushing 12 barges of grain collided with one of the support piers on the Florence drawbridge. The impact ripped open this front barge like a tin can and dumped some of its contents into the water. The barge started to sink, then got stuck on something under the water. Monday, crews unloaded some of the grain to install this temporary barrier. That should float the barge long enough to tow it away from the bridge.

Investigators are still looking into the exact cause of the collision, but officials on the scene say they believe a major reason for the accident was the heavy current on the Illinois river caused by spring flooding.

That heavy current, combined with the narrow lift span, made for troubles at Florence last May, too. That's when a barge ripped out a pier protection unit, which is supposed to protect the bridge from accidental collisions. Protection units hadn't been re-installed since the accident last year. That means Saturday's collision was barge against bridge and the bridge won.

Is the bridge safe?

Illinois Department of Transportation District 6 Bridge Engineer Steve Beran said, "The bridge is perfectly safe. We have inspected it, we have raised the lift span up and down several times over the course of the last few days . There is some cosmetic damage but that's easily repairable."

But it will take a while to re-open the bridge to the public. That's because the current pushed the tow and the remaining barges sideways downstream. Now they're stuck in the mud of the flood-swollen river bottoms.

Beran said, "We're a little concerned that the remaining barges might break loose and impact other truss spans."

That's why the Illinois Department of Transportation plans to keep the bridge closed until this tow can safely pass through the drawbridge and continue downstream.

At last check, 22 barges are backed up on both sides of the river due to the drawbridge closure.

I-Dot hopes to reopen the bridge to cars and trucks by the end of the day Tuesday or Wednesday.

----Posted Monday, March 22, 2010----

Coast Guard officials have closed a portion of the Illinois River after a towing vessel pushing barges hit a bridge.

No injuries were reported in the incident near Florence in Pike County.

Coast Guard officials say there was no waterway pollution.

The Coast Guard says the river will be temporarily closed to all commercial and recreational traffic for about a mile.

The bridge is also closed to vehicular traffic at this time.

Officials say four barges are wedged against the bridge and more than a dozen vessels are backed up in each direction.

Crews are on scene unloading the grain from one of the barges in order to dislodge it from the bridge.

The Coast Guard and authorities from Pike and Scott counties are investigating.