May 24, 2013

Washington state bridge collapse caused by oversized load

The Associated Press

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A portion of the Interstate-5 bridge is submerged after it collapsed into the Skagit river dumping vehicles and people into the water in Mount Vernon, Wash., Thursday, May 23, 2013 according to the Washington State Patrol. (AP Photo/Joe Nicholson)

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Ed Scherbinski, vice president of Mullen Trucking, said in an interview with The Associated Press that state officials had approved of the company's plan to drive the oversize load along I-5 to Vancouver, Wash., and the company hired a local escort to help navigate the route.

Mike Allende, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, confirmed the truck had a 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 not rare for trucks to strike bridges in Washington state – it's just that such accidents don't usually cause the structures to collapse.

The state DOT said there were 21 bridge-strikes involving trucks last year, 24 in 2011 and 14 in 2010.

There were no signs leading up to the Skagit River bridge to warn about its clearance height. State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said that under federal and state standards, the clearance is tall enough to not require signage.

Inslee said it will cost $15 million to repair the bridge. The federal government has already promised the state $1 million in emergency funding.

Traffic could be affected for some time. The bridge is used by an average of 71,000 vehicles a day, so the roadblock will cause a major disruption in trade and tourism.

The closest detour is a bridge about a quarter mile east of I-5, which is mostly used by local traffic between Mount Vernon and Burlington. Officials are also recommending detours using state Routes 20 and 9 that add dozens of miles to a trip.

The bridge that collapsed was inspected twice last year and repairs were made, Peterson said. It was not classified as structurally deficient, but a Federal Highway Administration database lists it as "functionally obsolete" – a category meaning that the design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders and low clearance underneath.

The 1,112-foot-long bridge, with two lanes in each direction, has four spans, or sections, over the water supported by piers. It's a steel truss bridge, meaning it has a boxy steel frame.

The span on the north side is the one that collapsed.

The mishap was reminiscent of the August 2007 collapse of an I-35W bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured another 145 when it buckled and fell into the Mississippi River during rush-hour.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the Minneapolis bridge failed because steel gusset plates that connected the structure's beams and girders were too thin.

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