(AP) A daytime look at an Arkansas highway bridge in the path of two runaway barges showed signs Saturday of damage to its pier protectors, but nothing significant enough to close the roadway, authorities said.
State police closed the Interstate 30 bridge for an hour Friday night, along with four other spans across the Arkansas River, after a towboat operator said he feared his runaway load may have struck piers.
The bridges reopened after a state inspector after the head of the Arkansas Waterways Commission and the North Little Rock Fire Department inspected the bridges in daylight Saturday and found the damage was limited to fresh scrapes on the concrete-capped pier protectors.
"We're grateful that the devices worked," said Gene Higginbotham, executive director of the commission. "They've done a good job. That's why you have the devices."
The I-30 bridge carries 114,000 vehicles annually. The Friday evening commute had already ended when the accident occurred but traffic was snarled when police also closed two bridges carrying city streets and two pedestrian bridges.
The only bridge to remain open after the accident was limited to railroad traffic, meaning at least a 16-mile detour for motorists.
Higginbotham said the barges, pushed by the MV Midland, made only a glancing blow to the I-30 bridge and a pedestrian span near the Clinton Presidential Library that is part of the riverfront trail.
The pier protectors are steel-enwrapped and concrete-capped cylinders filled with rocks, gravel and sand to cushion blows from passing barges and towboats.
After the accident, the towboat operator wrangled the barges a mile or so downriver.
The U.S. Coast Guard in Memphis, Tenn., said Saturday it was investigating but did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Higginbotham said the Midland was owned by Ingram Barge Co. of Nashville. The company said officials would be available Monday.
Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said his agency's bridge inspectors wouldn't return until Monday. He said there was nothing to indicate an imminent danger to traffic on the highways or the river.
The bridge was completed around 1970, Ort said, and was designed to accommodate the Arkansas River Navigation System, which was completed in 1974. The distance between the piers at Little Rock is 300 feet.
The I-30 bridge is scheduled to be widened from its current six lanes to eight lanes in the next 10 years. Higginbotham said the new bridge would likely be designed to reduce the hazards to and from river navigation.