PennDOT: Insurance short of crash costs

First Posted: 11:18 am - June 25th, 2015

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First Posted: 6/2/2013

SUSQUEHANNA TWP. — Bids will be opened today for replacement of the eastbound Route 22 bridge damaged in the May 9 tanker crash that resulted in a spectacular fire and explosion over Interstate 81, but officials say it “could be years” before the state sees the money to pay for necessary repairs.

More than likely, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it won’t be able to recover through insurance all of the money it will spend up-front to repair the interchange.

PennDOT spokesman Mike Crochunis said the department is waiting for state police to issue a report on the cause of the crash before it can pursue a claim involving the trucking firm of Tameric Enterprises LLC.

“It could be years before we could see the money,” Crochunis said. “This is unlike anything we have seen before. It’s not like a truck hitting a guiderail.”

A tanker registered to Tameric hauling 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel flipped over on the ramp from northbound I-81 to westbound Route 22/322 on the morning of May 9. The resulting fire and explosions severely damaged the ramp deck and forced the demolition of the eastbound Route 22 bridge over the crash site.

Preliminary estimates have set the cost of demolition and immediate repair at $10 million, but that could change after PennDOT opens the bids for replacement today.

On May 14, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the quick release of $2 million in emergency relief funds to PennDOT that can be applied to the preliminary $10 million estimate. “It helps to recover some of the costs,” Penny said.

Statistics from recent years show that almost half the truck crashes on this ramp involve a vehicle striking a fixed object. Until May 9, most damage was confined to the guiderail to the bridge and the bridge parapet, said PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny.

Guiderail damage can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, Penny said.

“These costs are minimal in comparison to the May 9 accident,” Penny said. “Statewide, we do pursue damage from responsible parties. How much is recovered varies between each incident and the extent of damage. Most haulers have liability caps so, in some cases, the replacement costs may exceed the cap.”

PennDOT so far has paid the up-front costs to demolish the Route 22 bridge and re-route the traffic flow through the interchange, Penny said. Funds for this work come from the department’s budget, which draws revenue from the liquid fuels tax and the license and registration fees Pennsylvanians pay the state.

The state general assembly, not PennDOT, has the authority to increase either the liquid fuels tax or the fees, Crochunis said. He explained how the unexpected costs from the tanker fire may cause delays as to when the other projects already scheduled by Engineering District 8 would go out to bid or start up.

“We manage the cards that were dealt,” Crochunis said. “We put the dollars and manpower to fix what needs to be fixed.” He said PennDOT is used to making adjustments partway through the fiscal year to handle such unexpected events as blizzards, flooding and other disasters.

PennDOT hired J.D. Eckman Inc. of Atglen, Chester County, to remove and repair the damaged sections of the ramp deck. Officials hope to have the ramp reopened by the end of the summer.

Samples taken of the concrete and steel under the deck helped officials determine that while some repairs are needed, a complete replacement of the ramp substructure and superstructure is unnecessary, Penny said.

This repair work will be included under the contract with Eckman.

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