The driver of a semitrailer truck who illegally drove through the Lowry Hill Tunnel last week and damaged overhead lighting might be getting a hefty bill from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. That is, as soon as officials identify the driver.
A video released Tuesday shows the westbound big rig with the letters JNJ displayed on the top of its cab rounding the curve inside the tube during last Friday's morning rush hour and its trailer clipping off 47 lights affixed to the wall adjacent to the inside lane as it passed through.
Fixtures, light bulbs and large metal pieces rained down on passing motorists and littered the traffic lanes with debris. A few pieces were so big that construction workers nearby stopped traffic for a moment while they picked them up and tossed them over a concrete barrier.
Trucks and vehicles over 9,000 pounds have been banned from the Lowry Hill Tunnel since late June, when MnDOT reduced the number of traffic lanes to two in each direction and at times have had motorist sharing one side of the tunnel. Take note: Another switch is coming Friday when all traffic will be shifted to the westbound side of the tunnel with two lanes in each direction. That is similar to the configuration last month when drivers shared the eastbound lanes.
Large vehicles were banned because of the narrow traffic lanes - only 10 feet wide instead of the normal 12 - and that created a safety hazard due to the squeeze, said spokesman David Aeikens.
Low clearance also was among the reasons for the decision, but not all truckers have not followed the ban. Friday's case was another example of that, and of the damage it can cause.
"We really need trucks to say out,"Aeikens said. "We think some are in there deliberately. We need folks [oversize vehicles] to stay out of there."
Troopers were called to the tunnel at 6:57 a.m. after a motorist following the truck saw damage and took photos of the truck, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol.
The patrol is still looking for the driver, who could be cited for criminal damage to property, Nielson said.
Meanwhile, MnDOT is searching for replacement lights, a difficult task since the company that made the original lights no longer does so. MnDOT also took down lights that were intact to protect them from getting damaged, Aeikens said.
The job for finding the driver is in the hands of the patrol, Aeikens said. But, he said, "if we figure out who did it, we will send them a bill," he added.