GPS-Obeying Truck Driver Collapses 100-Year-Old Bridge in North Dakota, Could Cost $10 Million to Repair

July 24, 2019 Updated: July 24, 2019

An overweight tractor-trailer loaded with dried beans caused a bridge more than 100 years old to collapse in North Dakota, local police said.

The historic bridge spanning North Dakota’s Goose River collapsed in the afternoon of July 22, after a semitrailer exceeding the bridge’s weight limit by 300 percent drove over it, the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The 56-foot-long, 18-feet-wide Northwood Bridge, constructed in 1906, is a designated historic landmark that can be found in the National Register of Historic Places, according to the county sheriff’s office. The bridge is marked with a weight restriction of no more than 14 tons of gross weight.

ND bridge
A photo provided by Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department shows an overweight semi has caused the collapse of a small, historic bridge near Northwood, N.D. on July 22, 2019. (Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

On July 22, however, a 42-ton 2005 Peterbilt truck tractor pulling a trailer loaded with dry beans, weighing just over 43 tons in total, traveled over the Northwood Bridge. The bridge subsequently collapsed, and the trailer became hung up on the west abutment, said the county sheriff’s office.

The truck’s driver, identified as Michael Dodds, was not injured in the accident. Police issued him a citation for $11,400.

Shane C. Olson, who owns the truck, told the Star Tribune that Dodds, a Minnesotan, was new to the area and heavily depended on his GPS device.

“He’s never been on that road before,” said Olson. He then added that he has forgiven his driver and won’t fire him.

A photo provided by Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department shows an overweight semi has caused the collapse of a small, historic bridge near Northwood, N.D. on July 22, 2019. (Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

Photos released by county sheriff’s office show the trailer hanging along one section of the wooden and iron span buckling under the weight of the vehicle. The bridge is partly submerged in the water.

ND bridge collapse
A photo provided by Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department shows an overweight semi has caused the collapse of a small, historic bridge near Northwood, N.D. on July 22, 2019. (Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

“The estimated replacement cost of the bridge is between $800,000 and $1,000,000,” the sheriff’s office said in the statement.

ND bridge collapse
A photo provided by Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department shows an overweight semi has caused the collapse of a small, historic bridge near Northwood, N.D. on July 22, 2019. (Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

The Northwood Bridge is hailed as one of the oldest surviving original bridges in the state of North Dakota. The Northwood Bridge has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1997.

Archived documents show that the bridge uses a pin-connected Pratt half-hip pony truss with a steel superstructure, a design that relies on the presence of relatively heavy vertical members to handle the compressive stress of a bridge load. Such a design saw widespread use nationally and in North Dakota during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A photo of Northwood Bridge in 1996. (The National Archives Catalog)

“The bridge retains a generally high level of integrity,” says the document. “It remains in its original location, and all major structural components appear to retain their as-built appearance.”

“Structures like the Northwood Bridge are more than just quaint relics. They’re among the most important remaining historic landmarks from North Dakota’s homestead era,” said historian Mark Hufstetler to Star Tribune. “The bridges are also marvels of engineering—intricate and lightweight structures that have endured for more than a century with very little maintenance.”

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