Updated at 5:33 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Major work necessary to repair damage after an over-tall load on Interstate 5 struck an overpass at Chehalis today means the main road that leads to Wal-Mart and numerous other retailers will be shut down indefinitely.
Drivers will need to use alternate routes for the foreseeable future, according to the state Department of Transportation.
About 11:40 a.m., a southbound semi-truck hauling a pair of excavators hit the Chamber of Commerce Way overpass, causing significant damage, according to the state Department of Transportation. Concrete debris struck two vehicles in the adjacent lane.
One of those motorists is lucky to be alive.
“I don’t know how fast she was going but if she was going 60 mph and one of those pieces hit her in the head or the chest, I’m sure that would have been it,” Chehalis Fire Department Capt. Rob Gebhart said.
The windshield of her car was intact, but peppered with concrete, he said. Some of the chunks fell into her passenger compartment, and one was left wedged into the glass on her driver’s side, according to Gebhart.
The driver, in her mid-40s from Port Orchard, sustained only a few little scratches, he said.
Melaney A. Watson was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital as a precaution, according to the Washington State Patrol. Her 2014 Ford Fusion was deemed totaled and was towed.
The GMC Yukon driven by a 41-year-old man from Covington was drivable, the state patrol reported.
The Chamber of Commerce Way overpass at exit 79 was shut down initially at the request of the fire and police departments. One southbound lane of the freeway remains closed this afternoon as well.
Due to the extent of damage to the girders and for the safety of the traveling public, the overpass will remain closed until repairs are made, the state agency said in a news release.
“We know this closure is a huge inconvenience for the community,” said DOT Maintenance Manager Glenn Schneider. “Repairing the bridge is going to take time, because each damaged part is unique and integral to the overall strength of the bridge.”
Backups today have stretched 11 miles to Grand Mound in Thurston County.
One of two southbound lanes will remain closed until DOT can remove loose debris and bridge cables that are hanging over the right lane of the freeway.
Washington State Patrol issued citations to the semi-truck driver. He is identified as Henry Abadia, 35, of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Final repair costs are still being determined. DOT will work to recover the costs for the emergency response and repairs from the responsible parties.
Workers next will inspect the overpass to determine the full extent of the damage and develop a repair plan.
Designing and constructing replacement bridge components takes time, and it may take several months until the overpass can reopen to traffic, officials said.
Shoppers can still get to Wal-Mart, Home Depot, the Twin City Town Center and the other businesses on the west side of Interstate 5 by exiting southbound at milepost 79, or using Northwest Louisiana Avenue and Airport Road.
From the south, drivers can get onto Northwest Louisiana Avenue where state Route 6 and Main Street meet just on the west side of the freeway.