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Load Mishap Cited in WA Bridge Collapse

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

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Slammed by a rig hauling an oversized load, a Washington State bridge has collapsed, plunging two cars and three people into the frigid Skagit River.

The four-lane bridge, which carries Interstate 5 over the river about 60 miles north of Seattle, collapsed into the water about 7 p.m. Thursday (May 23) after an 18-wheeler carrying an oversized load collided with the overhead structure of the bridge, authorities said.

Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board, including Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, began arriving at the scene hours after the accident.

Raw video released by the Associated Press shows the scene of the Interstate 5 Bridge shortly after the collapse.

At a news conference Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee estimated repairs to the bridge at $15 million, and state officials began scrambling to develop alternatives for the heavily traveled route. By Friday afternoon, drivers were reporting hour-long delays.

$1M in Aid Released

Opened in 1955, the I-5 bridge is a major commercial route between Washington and Canada, normally carrying about 71,000 vehicles a day. About 11 percent of the vehicles are commercial trucks transporting goods between the two countries.

Late Friday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced that he would make $1 million in federal emergency funds immediately available to begin repairs to the bridge.

“We are doing everything possible to restore mobility as quickly as possible and expedite repairs,” said LaHood. “Today's funding represents a down payment on our commitment to the people of Washington.”

The funds will help the Washington Department of Transportation install temporary bridges over the river and make permanent repairs. The Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief  program provides funding for highways and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.   

Skagit River bridge
Twitter / WSDOT

The 58-year-old bridge carrying Interstate 5 over the Skagit River in Washington collapsed, sending two cars into the water, after an oversized tractor-trailer struck the superstructure.

“We will continue to stand by Washington until all repair efforts are completed and this vital transportation link for international commerce is back up and running again,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez.

Company Had Permit

The tractor-trailer did not go into the water, and the driver, William Scott, 41, remained on the scene and cooperated with investigators. He voluntarily gave a blood sample for an alcohol test and was not arrested.

The Washington State Patrol said the driver worked for Mullen Trucking in Alberta, Canada, ABC News reported. The truck was reportedly carrying a housing for drilling equipment to Vancouver, WA, and the company said it had received a state-issued permit to carry the oversized load across the bridge.

Mike Allende, a WSDOT spokesman, confirmed to ABC News that the truck had its permit.

"We're still trying to figure out why it hit the bridge," Allende said. "It's ultimately up to the trucking company to figure out whether it can get through. It's their responsibility to make sure the load they have can travel on that route."

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste told reporters that the size of the load on the truck appeared to create a problem, causing the driver to strike the bridge.

Twitter / ByManuelValdes

Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters that there needed to be investments in bridges to prevent these failures. The steel truss bridge was listed as "functionally obsolete."

Initially, it wasn't clear if the bridge collapsed on its own.

The National Transportation Safety Board, state police, and state highway department were investigating.

Outdated Bridge Design

The steel truss bridge was 1,112 feet long and 180 feet wide and was listed as "functionally obsolete," meaning its design was outdated. Four spans were supported by piers. The north span is the one that collapsed.

The 58-year-old bridge was inspected last August and November, Transportation Department spokesman Noel Brandy told CBS News.

"We have some work to do on our bridges, whether or not this accident happened, and we have some discussions in Olympia [the state capital] about making sure that we make investments in bridges to prevent this kind of thing from happening," Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters.

Hersman said at a news conference that the NTSB investigation would look at bridge design and maintenance, human performance, motor carrier performance, operations, survival factors and emergency response.

'Lucky to be Alive'

Dan Sligh and his wife were in one of the vehicles that plunged into the water after the structure collapsed.

Sligh saw it all happen, telling several media outlets that the bridge disappeared before the couple in a "big puff of dust." He was driving behind the tractor-trailer when he realized that the load was about four feet too wide to fit through the bridge.

Interstate 5 bridge collapse
Wikimedia Commons / Wsiegmund

Three people crashed into the water with the bridge. All were recovering on Friday (May 24).

Sligh said his shoulder had been dislocated in the crash, but that he popped it back in and was able to drag his unresponsive wife to safety.

"You talk miracles, I don't know what you want to call it. When you're sitting down in the water and there's all that mangled metal and bridge and you're looking around, kind of pinching yourself because you're realizing you're lucky to be alive, it's a pretty amazing day," Sligh told KOMO News.

Another driver, Dale Ogden, who was in front of the truck, told KING 5 News that he had watched the bridge collapse in his rearview mirror, after witnessing the device designed to indicate whether a truck can clear an obstacle hit the top of the bridge.

"It almost tipped the truck over, but it came back down," Ogden said. "It tipped it up to about a 30 degree angle to the left, and it came back down on its wheels. Almost instantaneously behind that, I saw girders falling in my rear-view mirror."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Health & Safety; NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board)

Comment from Billy Russell, (5/28/2013, 10:03 AM)

I am not convinced, that this truck dislodged an entire span, lets see pictures of the 4 shoes how much steel was corroded, under this bridge, to soon to convince everyone the truck did it was the only contributing factor, I would like to poll the jury

Comment from Donald L Crusan, (5/28/2013, 10:23 AM)

@Billy Russell, right on my esteemed colleague. Paying very close attention to this, I see plenty of fault with the WDOT. But of course, the trucker will be blamed, charged, and probaly warehoused in a Privat For Profit Prison somewhere.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/28/2013, 10:51 AM)

Billy and Donald, I have to agree. I've seen the results of bridge strikes by far more solid loads than this and the bridges had remained intact and in place. When you look at the post impact photos of the truck and load (equipment housing), the load is hardly either it is far stronger than a D6 bulldozer, 750 or 900 series track-hoes or other steel girders or there was more involved than just the strike. Contributing factor? Sure...Sole cause? Not a chance.

Comment from Car F., (5/28/2013, 12:07 PM)

Allende said. "It's ultimately up to the trucking company to figure out whether it can get through"... sounds like this agency is trying to dump their responsibilities. The trucking company had a legal permit allowing them to use the bridge, which meant the bridge was safe to be used, why would they be concerned about it? I think this agency has a lot of explaining to do, how many other permits are they issuing for crossing unsafe and obsolete bridges?

Comment from Stephen Dobrosielski, (5/29/2013, 8:47 AM)

Comment 1: This structure could indeed have been brought down by an impact from a moving load. The definition of "fracture critical" means that failure of the specific "fracture critical" bridge component results in structural failure of the bridge ... this is based on lack of redundancy. Failure of the truss results in failure of the bridge.

Comment from Stephen Dobrosielski, (5/29/2013, 8:54 AM)

Comment 2: The article doesn't state which bridge truss component was impacted by the load, but the driver following the rig stated that he saw that the truck was too wide ... by four feet to fit through the bridge. Looking at the truss arrangement, the truss diagonals are "fracture critical" and the end diagonals carry all the bridge loadings shear forces to the truss bearings. These end diagonals would have been the members struck by a wide load.

Comment from Stephen Dobrosielski, (5/29/2013, 9:03 AM)

Comment 3: It is also reported in the article that a trucker travelling before the "oversize load" vehicle witnessed the trucks vertical clearances indicator impact the bridge overhead structure ... the portal frame. The portal frame provides lateral stability to the end diagonals and keeps the entire structure frame (a box) in proper functioning alignment. If the portal frame were impacted near the centerline of the bridge, the frame would bend, not necessarily break. Impact near the connection to the end diagonal (where the portal frame geometry on this bridge furnishes the least vertical clearance above the roadway) could result in a localized failure of the end diagonal material and consequently the failure of the bridge.

Comment from Stephen Dobrosielski, (5/29/2013, 9:08 AM)

Comment 4 (and the last one): M Halliwell, I agree that we have all seen signs of impacts of overhead bridge structures and that most of these impacts do not result in structural failure. About 18 months ago, a prestressed concrete girder bridge over an interstate highway here in southwest Pennsylvania failed after impact from an over-height truck - only the impacted girder, not the entire bridge.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/29/2013, 11:33 AM)

Stephen, some very good comments indeed. Looking at the load, it is hard to imagine the impact being the only cause...but if the truss layout of the bridge is one that lacks redundancy or has been weakened by past strikes, then it makes it more likely that this was either a critical hit or the proverbial "last straw." It will be interesting to see what the forensic investigation of the collapse reveals and where all the finger pointing goes on this one.

Comment from Billy Russell, (5/29/2013, 11:46 AM)

Exactly spot on guys, DOT is already dumping this on the truck, you issued a permit what were the standards of acceptance for approving the permit, we need to look at that as well as the corrosion issue, I have picture documented on a structure in New Orleans stress cracks that were 6-8 inches long 1/4 inch wide reported but no response from the owner until after it was completely Blasted/coated were we all know Bridging occeured no excuse put the cards on the table, this nations infrastructure has been over looked for far to long. FIX IT FIRST

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