Tennessee Highway Sign Falls into Traffic, Officials Plan Probe

July 10, 2008

The Tennessee Department of Transportation will begin inspecting 600 highway signs across the state like the one that fell July 7 onto Interstate 65 near a busy shopping mall.

The sign fell onto the interstate south of Nashville near an exit leading to Cool Springs Mall. No vehicles were hit.

The sign that fell and others like it are called cantilever signs because they are supported by only one pole on one side. It was 15 years old.

“What we saw yesterday shouldn’t have happened,” TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges told WSMV-TV of Nashville.

Department officials believe prolonged exposure to wind created by tractor-trailers may have contributed to the problem.

TDOT said the signs don’t have to be inspected, but the department periodically does so as part of its general work. Officials said there was no problem with the sign when they last inspected it in 2000.

The sign’s bolts didn’t pop out, and the foundation didn’t crack. It appeared that the metal simply split apart at the pole’s base, but it’s not clear why.

“We really don’t know right now. That’s what I’ve asked our structures divisions to do an analysis of,” Degges said.

TDOT added extra bolts at the base of nearly half of all the cantilever signs across the state. Workers will now determine if more needs to be done.

There was no complaint on record about the sign from a driver, and it had never been hit as part of a traffic crash.

“This is very dangerous for the motoring public, and we are very thankful there was nobody traveling underneath the sign at the time that it fell,” TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said.

All such signs across the state were inspected in 2000, department officials said.

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