Skagit River Bridge Collapses Near Seattle, Washington

Accident calls into question safety of aging infrastructure

 

bridge collapseA bridge has collapsed into Skagit River near Seattle on Interstate 5.
The incident happened Thursday evening. Washington State Trooper Mark Francis said a portion of the four-lane bridge over the Skagit River collapsed about 7 p.m.

Two vehicles were dumped into the water, injuring three people. They were rescued by boats and divers.

According to initial reports, there were no fatalities.
“We don’t think anyone else went into the water,” Marcus Deyerin, a spokesman for the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team said. “At this point we’re optimistic.”

Survivors, Dan Sligh and his wife, were heading north to a camping trip in their truck on Interstate 5 when the bridge before them vanished in a “big puff of dust.”
“I hit the brakes and we went off,” Sligh told reporters from Skagit Valley Hospital, where he was recovering from injuries. He said he saw “the water approaching … you hold on as tight as you can. You’re kind of pinching yourself and realize you’re lucky to be alive.”

Another man in a different vehicle was also thrown into the cold waters of the Skagit River. He was reported in stable condition at United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, hospital CEO Greg Reed said.

A volunteer firefighter, Jeremiah Thomas, said he was driving nearby when he witnessed the scene.
“The bridge just went down, it crashed through the water,” he said. “It was really surreal.”

Crowds of people lined the river Thursday evening to watch the scene unfold.

“It’s not something you see every day,” said Jimmy O’Connor, the owner of two local pizza restaurants who was driving on a different bridge, parallel to the one that collapsed. “People were starting to crawl out of their cars.”

He said he and his girlfriend were about 400 yards away on Burlington Bridge when they heard “just a loud bang.”
“Then we looked over and saw the bridge was down in the water,” he said.

The four-lane bridge was about 50 feet above the water. Authorities said it appeared that two vehicles — a car and a pickup with the travel trailer attached — fell into the river. They said the water depth was about 15 feet and that the vehicles were half-visible in the water and likely are resting on portions of the collapsed bridge.

The reason for the collapse of the bridge, about 60 miles north of Seattle, has not yet been determined. Late Thursday night, State Patrol detectives and the patrol’s commercial vehicle enforcement bureau troopers were questioning a commercial truck driver whose rig was believed to have struck the bridge.
“It appears the commercial vehicle made contact with the bridge,” Washington State Trooper Mark Francis said. “Whether it was the cause” of the collapse or made contact as the bridge was falling “that will all come out in the wash. But it appears it hit the bridge.”

The collapse has raised the questions about the safety on of the aging infrastructure between Seattle and Canada.

According to Federal records, the bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100. This number is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an analysis of federal data, but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.
A 2012 Skagit County Public Works Department reports that 42 of the county’s 108 bridges are at least 50 years old. The report further states eight of the bridges are more than 70 years old and two are older than 80.

Washington State was given a C in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 infrastructure report card and a C- when it came to the state’s bridges. The group reported that more than a quarter of Washington’s 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

State Transportation Committee Chair, Judy Clibborn, said the bridge wasn’t one that has been a focus for lawmakers.
“It is shocking that I-5 would have something happen like this,” she said.

Clibborn said the collapse will call attention to the issues facing bridges — especially the old bridge over the Columbia River that connects Vancouver and Portland, Ore.

Traffic along the heavily traveled route could be impacted for some time.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, who went on the scene late Thursday, said, “The I-5 corridor is totally disrupted,”
He said work to design a detour has already started. State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson asked people to avoid I-5 in the area for the next several days.

By Perviz Walji

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