OLA, Ark. (KFSM) — Crews are working to remove a semi-truck that’s been submerged in the Petit Jean River since February, when the driver tried to cross a historic bridge and destroyed the nearly 90-year-old structure.
Jeff Gilkey, the emergency manager of Yell County, has asked residents to stay away from Dale Bend Road, which spans the river just north of Ola, so crews have space to use a crane and lift the 40-ton truck from the water.
Officials with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) expect the removal process to take two or three days.
The driver was leaving Waynes Food in Danville with 17 pallets of frozen chicken when he tried to cross the bridge around 8 p.m. on Jan. 31.
The driver said he was following GPS coordinates, and despite the posted weight limit of six tons, continued onto the bridge.
“He was about 64,000 pounds over the weight limit,” Gilkey said.
The bridge partially collapsed at first, taking the semi into the river with it. By the following morning, the truck was fully submerged while the trailer was about halfway underwater. The driver escaped uninjured.
High water and weather delays kept crews from removing the truck sooner.
Once the semi was emptied, and the rain picked up, the force of the water in the river pushed the collapsed bridge and semi downstream, leaving the wreckage out of reach, Gilkey said in February.
An ADEQ report listed Great West Carriers out of Omaha, Neb., as the responsible party. ADEQ said the company was working with the state, as well as Yell County officials, to remove the truck.
The truck was carrying about 600 gallons of diesel along with other fluids, but ADEQ didn’t have an estimate on what amount — if any — was released into the river, according to the report.
Vincennes Bridge Company built the bridge in 1930. At the time, Arkansas was seeing a spike in automobile traffic, and the state was working to upgrade its highway infrastructure to keep up.
When it was completed, the 159-foot long Petit Jean River Bridge gave farmers another route to deliver their crops and “made it easier to travel and explore Yell County,” according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
The bridge, formerly one of three Pratt Thru Truss bridges in Yell County, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.