What happens if trucks don't clear the preclearance bars along Interstate 5?

A Semi easily clears a height delineator northbound on Interstate 5 near Ashland that lets truck drivers know if they are too tall to go under Oregon's bridges. 3/5/07 Denise Baratta

Hmm. They get stuck? Seriously, there are ways for oversized loads to negotiate the state. Even if your cargo is a military spy plane, said Gary Leaming, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Leaming said truckers managed to safely navigate the "Blackbird" SR-71 spy plane from Southern California to the Evergreen Air Museum in McMinnville by circumventing tight underpasses in 2002.

"It had to travel at night, lit up like a Christmas tree," Leaming said.

Traveling in darkness by special permit, the plane was routed off the highway and over the overpasses, then back onto the highway, Leaming said.

Minimum height standards for overpasses on the interstate are 17 feet, 6 inches, Leaming said. Trucks are weighed and measured for width and height preclearances at a series of port-of-entry stations along the interstates, Leaming said.

On Interstate 5, the southernmost station in Oregon is located along the northbound lanes between exits 14 and 19, Leaming said.

Creating a safe corridor for bigger trucks, bigger equipment and bigger loads is part of the reason ODOT is replacing or rebuilding 70 bridges and overpasses along the interstate corridor from Salem to Southern Oregon. In many cases, this will result in taller, wider and stronger structures.

"ODOT is working to modernize the highway to make it better for commercial traffic," said spokesman Lou Torres.

When I-5 was constructed, trucks and their loads were smaller. There also was not as much commercial equipment moving along the interstate corridor, Torres said.

ODOT is continually working to make the bridges trucker-friendly by providing signs warning of low clearances and increasing clearance when possible, Torres said.

"We bring in a series of jacks and very slowly, over a series of weeks, raise the overpass. It's the least expensive repair and it allows these larger trucks to go through," said Torres.

Lt. Brian Powers of the Oregon State Police said he's responded to calls in which trucks got stuck under the overpasses. The fix can be as complicated as calling in other heavy equipment to extricate the trapped vehicle, or as simple as letting the air out of the tires to lower the height, Powers said.

Vehicle traffic, which doesn't keep a close eye on height requirements, can cause significant structural damage to overpasses and bridges, Torres said.

"We've had a number of situations not only with overpasses, but some of the bridges, too," said Torres.

Twice in the last two years, the Mary's River Bridge near Corvallis has endured extensive damage to its metal crossbeams and side beams, he said.

"We've had to close the bridge for periods of time to do emergency repairs," said Torres. "One time was during football season. People going to Oregon State football games had to make note."

ODOT does its best to help truckers, but drivers are ultimately responsible for making sure they have adequate clearance. They are also responsible for repairing any damage caused by their vehicles. Sometimes the damage is simply scraped cement. Other times repairs can total more than $50,000, said Torres.

"We do try to get the information out about the clearances," said Torres. "Usually these things occur where a truck is carrying something that is a little bit higher than they thought."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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