Traffic snarled on U.S. 301 after sign struck

MANATEE -- Traffic had to be shut down and re-routed for several hours in both directions on First Street/U.S. 301 after a garbage truck struck an overhead transportation sign near Manatee Memorial Hospital just before 2 p.m. Monday.

The affected stretch of U.S. 41/U.S. 301 is one of the busiest roadways in Bradenton.

Jessie L. Williams Jr., 44, of Bradenton was driving a garbage truck for Waste Management heading south on First Street, but he had left open the bucket portion used to empty garbage and it struck With both north and south traffic shut down on First Street, traffic was detoured through downtown Bradenton and downtown Palmetto to the Green Bridge.

Florida Department of Transportation officials arrived, and had to use a crane to push the entire structure back on its foundation by several degrees.

Traffic was snarled for hours along the Green Bridge between Bradenton and Palmetto as workers cut away scrap pieces of the sign structure and used the crane to reset it.

Engineers finally decided the structure was considered sound and allowed traffic to re-open at about 5:15 p.m., said Cindy Clemmons, public information director for Florida Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, traffic was backed up on side streets in the area near Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Williams was cited for careless driving and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage.

“He hit it and kept going,” said Melvin Jones of Bradenton, who witnessed the crash. “I can’t believe something more didn’t come down.”

At least one piece of steel was stuck on the garbage truck after it struck the sign.

“It looked like a satellite with steel sticking out. He pounded and pounded for what it was worth,” Jones said after he watched Williams try to move the steel from the truck.

Williams eventually got out of the truck and manually disposed of the steel during a light cycle while he was stopped, Jones said.

Williams then drove away.

An officer also witnessed part of the incident and contacted Waste Management to tell the driver to return with the truck.

Estimated damage amount is $30,000, according to a police traffic report.

Williams told police he didn’t realize he struck anything.

The traffic jam on Monday afternoon, with several Bradenton Police officers responding to handle traffic, reminded many of a fiery gasoline tanker crash on the U.S. 301 overpass in June 2008 that closed the southbound I-75 bridge for several weeks, re-routing traffic through Bradenton and Palmetto.

On Monday, ambulances had to be re-routed from using the normal emergency entrance on First and entered on Manatee Avenue East. But ambulances were already available on both sides of the bridge before traffic was shut down, said Capt. Larry Leinhauser, public information officer for Manatee County Public Safety.

Some businesses actually benefitted from the rerouted traffic jam.

“We have more people than a typical Monday afternoon,” said server Melissa Johnson at Kojak’s Ribhouse, at 1631 Eighth Ave. W. in Palmetto. “People are pulling off the road and stopping in at the bar. They’d rather come in for a drink than sit in the traffic.”

Popi’s Place Too, also on Eight Avenue West in Palmetto, saw a slight increase in business as well.

“We’re doing OK,” said Lauren Kerrey. “More people are coming in. Traffic is at a standstill.”

Grace Gagliano, Herald business reporter, contributed to this report.