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Bridge Collapse in Washington Sparks Worries Over Over-Size Trucks

Posted on May 24, 2013

It appears that a bridge collapse that sent cars and drivers tumbling into a river in Washington state was caused when a semi-trailer truck carrying an oversize load struck a support beam, officials said on Friday.

Collapse of the , looking southward
The truck crossed the bridge safely before a portion of the structure collapsed, sending two vehicles and a mass of concrete and steel into the Skagit River Thursday evening. Three people had to be rescued, officials said.
While no one was killed, the collapse of the bridge, built in 1955, puts a spotlight on the dangers posed by the nation’s aging infrastructure, and follows calls by engineers and some public officials to invest in infrastructure and upgrade bridges.
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were probing the cause of the collapse, which occurred on the four-lane Interstate 5, the principal highway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. The bridge links the towns of Mount Vernon and Burlington.
“It’s very obvious to us that the one thing that initiated that whole sequence of events was when the load the truck was carrying struck the support girder,” Washington State Patrol spokesman Sergeant Kirk Rudeen said.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in Skagit County and two neighboring counties, citing the disruption of normal traffic, and said it would cost an estimated $15 million to repair the bridge.
Officials said the bridge, 55 miles (90 km) north of Seattle, was not among the spans listed by the state as “structurally deficient,” which in some cases relates to bridges that cannot carry their intended traffic loads.
But the privately run National Bridge Inventory Database listed the bridge as “functionally obsolete,” widely defined by public officials as a bridge not built to current standards and demands.
The Washington State Patrol said the bridge collapsed moments after the southbound semi-trailer truck, which Rudeen said was carrying an oversize load, struck at least one overhead support girder.
The truck driver, William Scott, 41, made it across the bridge and pulled his vehicle to the side of the road. Behind him, a Dodge Ram pick-up with a married couple abroad fell into the water, as did a man in a Subaru who then sat on the top of his submerged car, Rudeen said.
Local television images showed onlookers gathered on the bank of the Skagit River Thursday evening, watching the rescue operations.
“The currents of the river are really rough. It’s cold,” Barbara Williams, who lives nearby, told Seattle station KOMO-TV.
Truckers must obtain a permit from the state Department of Transportation to carry an oversize load. The driver also receives a proposed route from the state, Rudeen said.
An official with Canada-based Mullen Trucking, which employed the truck driver, said state transportation officials had given clearance to take the oversize loan across the bridge.
“Hopefully we will get some answers,” said Ed Scherbinski, vice president of operations for Mullen Trucking, adding that the company was sending its own investigative team to the scene.
Investigators have talked to Scott, who was given a sobriety test, has not been arrested, and was cooperating with authorities, Rudeen said.
Scherbinski declined to immediately provide the height of the oversize load the trucker was hauling. The truck had been bound for Vancouver, Washington, he said.
In August 2007, a bridge fell into the Mississippi River in Minnesota, resulting in the deaths of 13 people and raising concerns about faulty infrastructure in the United States.
A 2013 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. bridges a grade of C+, and ranked Washington state as having the 11th-highest projected cost of any state to perform what the organization deemed necessary repair or replacement of deficient highway bridges. The cost was pegged at $2.1 billion.
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