Ruling Expected on Bridge Collapse in Washington State
Posted at 11:15 a.m. on July 14, 2014
The scene near Mount Vernon, Wash., soon after the I-5 bridge collapse. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board will meet to determine the probable cause of the collapse on May 23, 2013, of a bridge on Interstate 5 spanning the Skagit River in Washington State.
The bridge is a major thoroughfare for truck and tourism traffic between Canada and the United States, with more than 71,000 drivers using it daily. Was this another case study in America’s aging infrastructure and the need for more federal transportation spending?
Maybe, but maybe not. This may end up being an illustration of the truism that accidents do happen and can knock out vital transportation links when they do. That’s why the NTSB report will be worth reading.
The preliminary account from the NTSB was that a large truck hauling an oversize load struck the top of the bridge, which had been constructed in 1955.
“The impacts caused significant damage to load-bearing members of the bridge’s superstructure, resulting in the failure and subsequent collapse of the northernmost bridge span,” the NTSB preliminary report said.
The Department of Transportation made $15.6 million in emergency funds available to replace the bridge.
Crews put in temporary spans, re-opening the bridge less than four weeks after the accident. A permanent replacement bridge was in place by Sept. 15, 2013.
The accident happened in the home state of Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who serves both as chair of the Budget Committee and as a member of the Appropriations Committee.
In January, Murray was able to get in an omnibus spending bill a requirement that the Government Accountability Office conduct a survey of state transportation departments and their treatment of oversize loads, including permitting and oversight.
Murray’s office said the bridge collapse “raised questions about the height of the truck that struck the bridge and what the truck driver knew about the height of the bridge.” So the bill directs the Federal Highway Administration to rethink federal and state requirements for marking bridge height.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member, Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat in whose district the accident took place, said, “The expedited federal funding and permitting process used to repair the Skagit River Bridge offers an important lesson learned for how we approve regular transportation projects. Permitting for federal transportation projects could move faster. The efficiency and effectiveness of the Skagit River Bridge process can and should be applied more broadly.”
Meanwhile, Larsen will keep advocating the SAFE Bridges Act, sponsored by the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia, which would invest $5.5 billion to start fixing structurally deficient bridges across the country.