As city officials review their response to a toppled fish truck, a Seattle Tunnel Partners executive says his team was eager to help.
Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) says it would have immediately lent a hand with clearing the overturned truckload of frozen fish during last Tuesday afternoon’s horrid commute, if the city had asked.
City leaders have been second-guessed by commuters and reporters since the nine-hour closure of the southbound lanes.
One question: Why didn’t police or the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) enlist Highway 99 tunnel crews several yards away to drag, lift or push the container onto state tunnel property shortly after the 2:30 p.m. crash?
Police called their towing contractor, Lincoln Towing, which righted the load by around 7 p.m. — but it was too unstable to drive away using another truck. Eventually, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) brought forklifts and helped transfer the cargo to another refrigerated container.
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“Had we been contacted at that time with respect to getting the truck upright, I’m sure we could have done something at that time, with the equipment we had on-site,” said Chris Dixon, project director for STP.
Instead, tunnel crews went back to work, while police took charge of the scene, he said.
Around 7 p.m., Dixon said he took a call from Matt Preedy, deputy Highway 99 tunnel administrator for the state Department of Transportation, seeking help. Dixon says he called his superintendent to set workers in motion.
City departments will perform a post-incident review.
But at this point, Mayor Ed Murray and SDOT Director Scott Kubly say dragging the container onto the tunnel job site would have gouged the highway, or broken the steel container, spewing fish on the roadway.
Kubly said Friday there was no shoulder, so “you would have had to drag it hundreds of feet.” When informed STP’s work area was within 100 feet, he said a damage risk still existed.
The fish-truck driver, Yeshivas Berhan, 50, said he suffered a broken left arm and a head cut.
Berhan said he was taking fish to Terminal 18 on Harbor Island. Berhan said he was braking and below the 40 mph speed limit, at a curve just beyond the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
A car veered from the left, so he swerved right, he said. He thinks his right rear wheels grazed a concrete barrier. “I tried to save it but I couldn’t, I guess,” he said.
Construction workers turned off the engine and helped him out of the truck. Berhan said tunnel workers and medics “saved my life.”
“All the people, thank you for your patience and time, I am so sorry about the eight or nine hours blocking the lanes,” he said.
The accident came up Thursday at the House Transportation Committee, considering a $15 billion transportation package and 11.7-cent gas-tax boost. At the meeting, Murray requested money for a Lander Street overpass in Sodo and authority for Sound Transit to put another $15 billion in projects before urban Puget Sound voters.
“As we saw just a few days ago, that corridor, if just one accident happens, as happened with a truckload of salmon, the entire region clogs up,” he testified.
Actually, the truck carried bags of frozen whitefish — not salmon, as police initially tweeted.
Also, it was a Lincoln Towing boom and not an STP crane that stabilized the righted container, while the fish was transferred to another refrigeration truck using STP forklifts, Dixon said.
Asked if liability issues loomed, police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said officers had no contact with city attorneys about salvaging the fish. Righting the truck was considered the quickest way to clear the road, he said.
STP is eager for positive press, in light of a two-year megaproject delay, and more than $200 million in compensation requests, for issues ranging from groundwater to a longshore labor dispute.
Asked if he’ll file a change order for moving pallets of whitefish, Dixon chuckled.
“I don’t think so.”