It’s not easy to avoid a sense of deja vu on this story, but there is one key — and happy — difference between this story and six years ago in Minneapolis: no one got killed in the bridge collapse in Washington. A truck collided with a bridge in Mount Vernon north of Seattle on the I-5 freeway, creating the collapse and sending three vehicles into frigid water 50 feet below. Thankfully, all were rescued with minor injuries.
The AP has raw video of the collapsed bridge, and the New York Times carries their report:
An Interstate 5 bridge over a river collapsed north of Seattle Thursday evening, dumping two vehicles into the water and sparking a rescue effort by boats and divers as three injured people were pulled from the chilly waterway.
As with the Minneapolis collapse that killed 13, questions were immediately raised about the bridge’s known condition before the collapse. It had been rated “functionally obsolete,” but that’s a reference to its design, not its condition. Washington had not considered it a high priority for replacement:
The National Bridge Inventory Database lists it as “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place,” with a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100 — worse than Washington’s average rating of 80 but better than 759 other bridges in the state. And while Washington State is considering its own $8.4 billion transportation package, state lawmakers say the Skagit Bridge wasn’t even on their high-risk list. “It is shocking that I-5 would have something happen like this,” state Rep. Judy Clibborn, (D)tells the AP.
That won’t stop tongues from wagging and assigning blame ahead of an investigation. The same thing happened here in 2007, with politicians and local columnists shrieking about budget cuts (which were nonexistent) until an NTSB investigation finally ended up faulting the original design of the bridge and its gusset plates. There’s already plenty of reason to argue that it’s not a lack of cash (even in Skagit County where the bridge collapse took place), but a strange set of priorities that might have slowed infrastructure investment in roads and bridges. All sides should take a deep breath and wait to see what really happened.
KOMO 4 in Seattle has its own news report on the collapse:
Francis said troopers have located a commercial motor vehicle believed to have hit several girders on the bridge just prior to the collapse. The driver is cooperating with investigators.
As the rescue unfolded, crowds of people lined the river 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 another bridge parallel to the one that collapsed. “People were starting to crawl out of their cars.”
Here’s a little more raw footage.
I suspect that we’ll be hearing a lot about the bridges in Washington over the next few weeks. Don’t forget that this will be a federal question, at least in part, as it is part of the federal interstate highway system — as was also the case in Minneapolis in 2007.