We don’t need no sinking regulations


Seattle KOMO News — The Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed Thursday evening, dropping three vehicles into the water and injuring at least three people.

Rescue crews in at least three boats were able to pull three people from the semi-submerged vehicles, which are tangled in the wreckage of the bridge. All three were taken taken to a local hospital and the extent of their injuries is not known. Nobody was killed in the collapse.

Bart Treece with the Washington State Department of Transportation was unsure when the bridge was last inspected. “All of our bridges in the area are pretty old,” he said.

The bridge is not considered structurally deficient but is listed as being “functionally obsolete” – a category meaning that their design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders are low clearance underneath, according to a database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.

The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.


  1. says

    Silly Andrew. Proper inspection of bridges costs taxpayer money, which means raising taxes. And that’s socialism. (*)

    (*) To channel modusoperandi, a regular on Dispatches: SOCIALSM!!

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Advertent or in-, that headline wins 1 internet for the most apropos of the day!

  3. Trebuchet says

    The bridge did not collapse because of a lack of funds or inspection, however. It was hit by an over-height truck. According to a local contact of mine, the truck had already passed under an even lower overpass but apparently drifted off to the right side and struck the bridge portal at its lowest point.

    That bridge is about a mile from where I hurl pumpkins each fall, by the way. I’ve been over it many times.

  4. Trebuchet says

    Speaking of regulations, all of which are bad according to many Republicans, various presumably conservative politicians in Oklahoma have suddenly become in favor of requiring storm shelters in new construction. Imagine that.

  5. robb says

    seems like there are no lessons learned from this and other bridge collapses. here is another old bridge that fell several years ago. it was also old and was being fixed:

  6. zekehoskin says

    I’m sure the story will develop. As of now: the overheight truck had a proper pilot car. The pilot car warning went off properly. The truck driver was hemmed in and unable to get into the higher lane and either didn’t think to stop or didn’t manage to stop in time. But of course people thousands of mile away get pretty much the same news feeds as I do thirty miles away, so I can’t claim special knowledge.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    Bart Treece with the Washington State Department of Transportation was unsure when the bridge was last inspected.

    That’s pretty eye-popping. In my locality, bridges are inspected on a regular schedule. And transportation officials would not be caught making such a statement without referring to the records to get an exact date.

  8. stever says

    Meanwhile, we pay Department of Agriculture employees to attend performances of stage magicians, to make sure that if a magician uses a rabbit in his act, he has the required Federal license. Note that no license is required to sell rabbits for slaughter or snake chow. There must be thousands of old, largely unjustified regulations whose enforcement is sucking money away from things like infrastructure inspection, food inspection and the National Weather Service.

  9. evilDoug says

    Note how the steel actually looks torn in the upper left corner of the photo above. That isn’t easy to do unless there is flaw of some sort.

    There is a picture of the truck that hit at USA Today. (You’ll probably have to root around the site – it doesn’t seem possible to get directly to the specific photo). The load is fairly large, but the total mass wouldn’t be that great – it’s a big empty box. The height is probably a bit greater than most loads, but mostly the “oversize” is width. Chances are that trucks far far heavier pass over that bridge regularly.
    (Actually, just noted the caption says a truck …, so it isn’t clear if that is the truck that hit the bridge.)

    I noted at one site (can’t find it again) that dept. of transport(?) said there was no sign indicating height clearance for the bridge. The trucking company was using a local pilot company that damned well should have known the details.
    I wonder if height restriction signs are a poplar item for theft. (Last time I drove on the coast of Oregon, there were lots of “leaving tsunami zone” signs, but none for “entering” – they get stolen.)

  10. leftwingfox says

    The bridge did not collapse because of a lack of funds or inspection, however. It was hit by an over-height truck.

    Why do you think the former had nothing to do with the catastrophic level of damage from the latter?

    Getting hit by a truck seems to be the exact sort of plausible accident a bridge should be designed to withstand.

  11. Maureen Brian says

    In a well-ordered universe a bridge – especially one on a main highway – which collapses because of a single strike from a single truck was, by definition, defective before the truck got there!

    For lack of recent inspection data we just can’t say exactly how long that bridge has been so dangerous but sorry, trebuchet, you can’t get the laws of physics which apply in our universe suspended to suit political convenience or some daft economic theory.

    If you should ever visit me – and you would be most welcome – I will walk you the 250 metres down the street to visit a bridge which is 503 years old. It has been regularly inspected because for most of that half-millennium it was on a vital trade route. Major repairs have been recorded and the bridge was completely repointed in 2011, after yet another inspection.

    Please stop pretending that infrastructure is an optional extra in a developed economy and/or that no bridge collapse could ever have been predicted or prevented. Bloody hell! The ancient Greeks could have predicted that one.

  12. Trebuchet says

    @11: I agree that the design may have been a bit deficient, but that happened 60 years ago. Still nothing to do with maintenance. It’s the sort of catastrophic single failure we were always on guard against at the airplane factory.

    This is a heavily Democratic state, by the way. We had a Republican candidate for Governor a few years ago who was simultaneously castigating the governor for the poor state of the roads while blaming her for increasing gas taxes. The tax increase was actually passed by the voters and specifically earmarked for fixing the roads. The Republican lost.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the state replaces the whole bridge with a more modern one (takes a lot of time and money) or just replaces the missing truss section.

  13. evilDoug says

    If you search around the web, you can find a photo of the the near end (i.e. where it joined with the surface road) piling of the bridge. You will see substantial vegetation growing on that piling. Now it may be that that particular vegetation grows very fast, so it may not have been there for very long (at the very least, this is the second year for it, judging by the dead bits). That piling could not have been adequately inspected without removing all of that vegetation. I also suspect that the vegetation would contribute to holding moisture proximal to the two dainty little feet that held up that entire end of the span, hastening their rate of corrosion.

    I’m curious about how long it would actually take to do a thorough inspection of a bridge like that. Even a careful visual survey would take a lot of effort.

    Paradoxically, one thing that can ultimately cause breakdown of concrete structures used in bridges (particularly decks) is the use of steel reinforcing bar (“rebar”). Over time, moisture and air can penetrate to the rebar, causing it to oxidize. Rust occupies more volume than the original steel, so things rapidly go from bad to worse as the corroding steel becomes built-in chemically-powered wedges. Cathodic protection can dramatically reduce the rate of corrosion, but it is nearly impossible to retrofit, since the rebar needs to all (or more typically in sections) be tied together electrically.

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