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I-88 Collapse One Year Later

To read our entire coverage of the I-88 collapse, use this link.

Slightly after daybreak on the rainy morning of June 28, 2006, from opposite directions David Swingle and Patrick O'Connell headed towards mile 37 on Interstate 88 not knowing that their paths would cross in the most unfortunate of situations. For two days, heavy and consistent rains had fallen across much of Upstate New York with some locations receiving over a foot. The rains had already caused heavy flooding in many towns that bordered the Delaware River. Throughout the area, waters were rising on the Delaware and surrounding streams that would bring record crests in places like Binghamton, Unadilla, Walton, and Oneonta.

The heavy rains had saturated the ground and runoff along with the persistent rain had swollen numerous streams, rivers and creeks in the area, including Carrs Creek that feeds into the Delaware near Unadilla. Carrs Creek crosses under Interstate 88 just south of the Exit 10 interchange.

Swingle and O'Connell would approach Carrs Creek around 6 am that morning. They never made it across. Sometime around 6 am, the swollen creek had overwhelmed the culvert and surrounding area causing the structure to fail and all four lanes of the highway to collapse into creek.

The first call reporting the collapse came in at 6:02. By then, it is believed that Swingle had already driven into the chasm. The impact of the cab into the ground killed him instantly. Motorists, mainly other truck drivers, saw O'Connells truck -- headed westbound -- and tried to alert him. It was too late, he also crashed into the floodwaters. He had been ejected from his cab and was lying unconscious on the ground when a rescue squad began a rescue attempt at around 6:20. Unfortunately, more of the highway collapsed and O'Connell was soon washed away with the rapids. His body would be found in a nearby field eleven days later.

As the day went on, more of the land surrounding the highway collapsed. The gorge would even swallow the Exit 10 guide sign. The chasm would be nearly 150 feet at its widest point and nearly 60 feet deep. For most of the summer, traffic on Interstate 88 would be detoured onto two lane NY Route 7 between Sidney and Unadilla.

It was later learned that the 33 year old culvert had in a 2004 inspection received a 5 out of a possible 7 rating, considered good. However, numerous structural concerns involving erosion and corrosion were noted. Ironically, a few weeks prior to the collapse, the State had awarded a contract that included the rehabilitation of the culvert which would include a new concrete floor.

After the collapse, an emergency contract to replace the culvert was let. Crews assigned to the project worked nearly non-stop building the culvert on site. Around Labor Day, traffic was returned to Interstate 88 on the Westbound lanes. Traffic was limited to one lane in each direction. Later that fall, the entire roadway was reopened.

However, the completion of a new culvert did not end the problems for I-88 at Carrs Creek. Earlier this year, NYSDOT had to let a contract to replace 8500 cubic yards of polystyrene fill that was used in the construction of the new structure. The fill was structurally failing as the new roadway began to sag. The fill is to be replaced by "expanded shale" at a cost of $1.1 million. Questions have been razed on why the polystyrene fill was used in the first place in addition to environmental concerns as to using what is basically Styrofoam as fill around a body of water. The project is to end in July.

The tragedy of June 29, 2006 gripped numerous communities throughout Upstate New York. Flooding shut off towns from the outside world, numerous homes were gutted and would need to be rebuilt from scratch, and a number of other rural roads would have to be rebuilt from washouts or landslides.

But most importantly, two families lost loved ones that they never had the chance to say goodbye to.

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