Falling ice caused by recent weather in the area prompted officials to close two of the three lanes on the Veterans' Memorial Skyway for about six hours Tuesday and was a contributing factor in a collision on the span, although police faulted a driver's speed as the main reason for that crash.
The possibility of ice falling from the Veterans' Glass City Skyway's stay cables after winter storms was considered during the bridge's design but deemed unlikely to occur often enough to justify countermeasures, an Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman said yesterday.
Now state officials will have to decide if this week's weather sequence - an ice storm followed a day later by steady rain that sent chunks of ice plunging onto the bridge's southbound lanes - is as fluky as they thought.
"We had freezing rain and ice for three days, so there was a good accumulation. Then we had all that rain, which made it melt, and it just started peeling off," ODOT spokesman Theresa Pollick said. "You have to think how often that happens. It's just a rare situation."
The falling ice prompted officials to close two of the three lanes for about six hours Tuesday and was a contributing factor in a collision on the span, though police faulted speed as the main reason for that crash.
Amy Bocock of Oregon, whose vehicle hit the center wall, spun several times, then collided with a vehicle driven by Suzan Sellke of Parma, Ohio. Ms. Bocock was cited for failure to control.
"Basically, she was going too fast," Toledo police Sgt. Richard Murphy said. "If they slowed down, it wouldn't have happened. She got caught up on the ice on the pavement. We can't close down the bridge every time we get a storm."
But another motorist reported damage to his pickup from the falling ice and said he had no way of avoiding it because of other traffic.
A Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman said the Mackinac Bridge does occasionally close - twice in the last five years - because of falling ice. "After a freezing rain and then the sun comes out, it can come loose," MDOT's Bob Felt said. "It's not a problem that happens too often. But when it does, it's serious."
Ms. Pollick said bridges elsewhere with overhead support structures - trusses, suspension cables, or stay cables - have been closed or restricted rarely for the same reason.
She said ODOT was unaware of any vehicles being struck by the falling ice Tuesday. But Donald Shamp of Millbury reported to police that he was southbound in the left lane about 9:45 a.m. when an ice chunk struck the front of his pickup, making a 6-inch-square hole in its grille and cracking the windshield's exterior and interior layers.
"Ice hit a semi in front of me too," Mr. Shemp said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But I couldn't swerve over because there was a car next to me."
Mr. Shemp said he couldn't define the ice pieces' size other than "huge" - "that's why I called 911 right away" - but said they were shaped just like the stainless-steel sheaths that protect the Skyway's stay cables.
Sergeant Murphy estimated the biggest ice pieces he saw falling from the structure while at the subsequent accident scene at 8 to 9 inches long.
The southbound left and center lanes were closed after the 10:07 a.m. crash, reopened briefly after the wreckage was cleared and ice seemed to have stopped falling, then closed again when more ice fell from the cables. It did not reopen until about 4 p.m.
Sergeant Murphy said the state might consider putting some sort of heating device in the Skyway's cable sheaths to prevent ice accumulations, but Ms. Pollick made no promises.
"It's our plan to watch it," the ODOT spokesman said. "We weren't completely sure how [the bridge] was going to react" to icy weather.
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