A construction lift being carried on a flatbed trailer hit the bottom of an overpass on the Maine Turnpike in South Portland on Monday, seriously injuring the driver, briefly shutting down all northbound traffic and causing considerable damage to the bridge.

The crash occurred about 11 a.m. at the Exit 45 overpass that carries traffic over the turnpike to southbound entrance and exit ramps.

The impact was so great that it halted the truck and folded the flatbed trailer in half, injuring the driver and damaging the steel I-beams supporting the span. It took six tow trucks to pull the truck and equipment free, snarling traffic for hours during the complicated extraction.

This is the second time in recent years that this overpass was struck by passing construction equipment. In 2016, an excavator being towed on a trailer struck the overpass on the southbound side, causing $400,000 in damage. Although engineers were still evaluating the severity of Monday’s impact, a spokeswoman for the Maine Turnpike Authority said this crash appears similar to the 2016 incident.

“From just the photos (our engineer) saw, it looks very similar to what happened a few years ago, but it could be worse,” said Erin Courtney, spokeswoman for the turnpike authority.

The clearance height under the overpass is 14 feet 4 inches, Courtney said; the maximum vehicle height on the turnpike is 13 feet 6 inches, she said.

All northbound traffic was diverted for roughly 30 minutes while emergency crews responded to the crash. One lane was reopened shortly after noon, although the Exit 45 southbound off-ramp and the right northbound lane remained closed, the turnpike authority said.

All northbound traffic was diverted for roughly 30 minutes on the Maine Turnpike on Monday after a truck hauling a small crane struck an overpass near Exit 45 in South Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Engineers inspected the overpass, but the turnpike authority had not yet described the extent of the damage by late Monday afternoon.

The type of articulating boom lift involved in the crash weighs more than 34,000 pounds, and when fully extended, reaches 80 feet in the air, according to its manufacturer.

The truck and the lift belong to W.D. Matthews, a machinery rental company based in Auburn, said Jim Chaousis, the company’s service manager. Chaousis said the truck picked up the lifts in Portsmouth and was returning to the company’s Auburn location when the crash occurred.

The driver, who was identified by police at Loel Faulkinham, 58, of Auburn, suffered a compound fracture to an arm and also broke some ribs, Chaousis said.

No charges were filed in the crash, a Maine State Police spokesman said.

Chaousis said the truck had been on the turnpike since at least Kittery. It’s unclear yet whether the Exit 45 overpass that it struck is lower than all the others before it, or if there was some other cause of the impact.

Chaousis said it appears the lift was properly tied down to the trailer, which may have contributed to the way the trailer buckled and folded under the stress. The company will soon review GPS data to determine the driver’s exact route, Chaousis said.

“That was the only thing the driver said to me about the ride, that he passed under some (earlier) overpasses,” he said. “Obviously he was shocked from the impact, he was confused about why (it happened).”

Chaousis said the driver, who has been with the company for about 18 months, was being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“From what I saw of the incident and what the trooper told me, it sounds like when the lift hit the overpass he came to a complete stop and the counterweight of the … lift came through the cab and hit him from behind,” Chaousis said.

The company has a fleet of eight trucks that are registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In 2018, the company received six citations from commercial vehicle safety inspectors for using insufficient straps, or failing to use straps or tie-downs at all to secure the machinery it was  hauling.

The violations were serious enough for inspectors to immediately order the truck off the road until the problem was fixed, according to the records.


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