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Crane on Massive Bridge Job Floats Away

Friday, March 3, 2017

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A floating construction crane broke away from its moorings during a burst of wind early Wednesday (March 1) at a Seattle bridge construction site, running aground in shallow water without causing any damage.

According to the Seattle Times, the barge that held the crane slipped loose Wednesday morning when at least one of the pilings it was fastened to became dislodged. A nearby resident reported that the equipment came close to a residential dock around 4:00 a.m. Washington State Department of Transportation officials told the newspaper the crane came to a stop in shallow water without going ashore, and was retrieved.

$4.6 Billion Project

The crane is part of the current phase of the $4.6 billion SR 520 Bridge Replacement Project, a massive bridge construction job that’s been in progress since 2011 and will continue for another decade.

SR 520 Bridge
Images: WSDOT

The replacement of the SR 520 pontoon bridge with a new floating structure (pictured) was completed in April 2016.

The most notable part of the job—the replacement of one pontoon bridge structure across Lake Washington with another floating bridge—was completed last year. The current phase involves the replacement of the West Approach Bridge North with a structure that will be safer in the event of seismic activity.

The general contractor on this phase of the bridge project will be reassessing its plan for dealing with the floating cranes, a WSDOT spokesperson told PaintSquare News.

"The contractor, Flatiron West Inc., is currently reevaluating their procedures to prevent future weather-related incidents," WSDOT's Emily Durante said via email. "Washington State Department of Transportation staff will provide feedback as needed while the contractor works to implement these plan revisions with their staff and subcontractors."

Past Incidents

It was, as the Times reports, the second time such an incident has occurred at the site of the SR 520 project; in 2013, during an earlier phase of the project, a similar crane floated away. That incident happened on a section of the project managed by Mowat-American.


The current phase of the project involves the replacement of the West Approach Bridge North, slated to reopen this summer.

The same project was also the site of an incident in 2015 in which a pipe that was being transported hit a traffic sign, causing it to fall into traffic, injuring eight people on a bus. Flatiron West faced $5,500 in fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over that incident, initially in the form of one “serious” and one “other” violation, later reduced as part of a settlement to just one “other” violation.

Just a week before that, also in March 2015, a worker on another section of the project, managed by a joint venture of Kiewit-General-Manson, was killed in a fall. The joint venture was fined $14,400 by OSHA over that incident; those violations are listed as “under contest” in OSHA’s online enforcement database.

Big Project, Big Timeline

The SR 520 project is extensive, including the replacement of the world’s longest floating bridge with a new, six-lane floating structure. Early on, the project brought challenges, as some of the concrete pontoons were found to be cracking, spalling and leaking soon after construction, in 2012. WSDOT and the Kiewit-General design-build team worked on a repair and restarted construction soon after.

The bridge was originally predicted to open in late 2014, but ended up opening in April 2016.

The West Approach Bridge North is slated to open this summer. There are three more phases of construction to go on the project: The Montlake Phase, Portage Bay Phase and Montlake Cut Crossing Phase. The final phase is expected to begin no earlier than 2024 and last three years.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Contractors; Cranes; Health & Safety; North America; OSHA; Roads/Highways; Safety; Transportation

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