Washington Bridge Collapses After Truck Accident

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 24 2013 10:01 AM

The Washington Bridge That Collapsed Last Night Was "Functionally Obsolete"

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Crews survey the scene of a bridge collapse on Interstate 5 on May 23, 2013, near Mount Vernon, Wash. I-5 connects Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

So this happened last night, via the Associated Press:

A truck carrying an oversize load struck a bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River below, though all three occupants suffered only minor injuries. It happened about 7 p.m. Thursday on the four-lane Interstate 5 bridge near Mount Vernon, about 60 miles north of Seattle, and disrupted travel in both directions.
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The truck managed to make it off the bridge before the collapse—and the driver remained on the scene—but two other vehicles weren't so lucky, making the roughly five-story plunge into the water below. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse there were some fears that the bridge had given way on its own, but Washington state police now say it happened when a tractor-trailer carrying an extra-tall load hit an upper part of the span. That will ease some fears about the state of the nation's bridges, but is still likely to draw increased attention to the normally not-so-sexy topic of infrastructure. Here's the AP with more on the state of this particular bridge:

The bridge was not classified as structurally deficient, but a Federal Highway Administration database listed it as being “functionally obsolete” — a category meaning that the design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders and low clearance underneath. The bridge was built in in 1955 and had a sufficiency rating of 47 out of 100 at its November 2012 inspection, Transportation Department spokesman Noel Brady said Friday. 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 said more than a quarter of Washington’s 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

According to state transportation officials, the bridge was inspected twice last year and at least some repairs were made. "It's an older bridge that needs a lot of work just like a good number of bridges around the state," Lynn Peterson, the state transportation secretary, said last night. The federal National Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigative team to help figure out exactly what went wrong.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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