NTSB reports on multiple barge breakaway that closed I-10 bridge

Written by Nick Blenkey
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The unified command removes the final barge from underneath the San Jacinto Bridge (Screen grab from USCG video

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued its report on the September 19, 2019, incident in which 11 barges broke free from a San Jacinto River barge fleeting area near the Interstate 10 (I-10) bridge in Channelview, Texas. Six barges struck pier columns supporting the bridge.

No pollution or injuries were reported. Total damages, including repairs to the I-10 bridge ($5.11 million) and removal of and repairs to the barges ($350,000), exceeded $5.46 million.

The I-10 causeway at the San Jacinto River consists of two parallel bridges; the northern bridge carried westbound traffic and the southern bridge carried eastbound traffic. The westbound bridge was not reopened until January 19, 2020, while the eastbound bridge only reopened to its original capacity on February 15, 2020, nearly 5 months after the accident.


The incident took place during historic flood waters and high river current, and the NTSB’s blow-by-blow account of how the incident was handled by San Jacinto River Fleet operator Cheryl K Marine LLC and four of its towboats and their crews makes compelling reading. Download it at the link below.


The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the barge breakaway and contact with the I-10 bridge was the force of the river current acting on the moored barges at the San Jacinto River Fleet, which exceeded the capacity of the mooring lines, due to the extreme rise and flow of water in the San Jacinto River from Lake Houston dam’s uncontrolled spillway release of water during a historic rainfall event. Contributing was the operating company not rearranging fleeting area tiers to mitigate the effect of current on barge tiers.

The report concludes with this note:

Severe Weather Planning

Marine operating companies should develop and continuously evaluate severe weather plans to prepare for challenges accompanied by tropical storms and/or severe weather with the potential to cause flooding or swift water within their areas of operations. Severe weather can trigger prolonged periods of weather restrictions in navigable river watersheds and create challenging conditions due to high or swift water downstream.

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