I-5 bridge north of Seattle collapses after being struck by wide load

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/24/2013

A portion of an Interstate 5 bridge north of Seattle collapsed into the Skagit River after being struck by an escorted wide load on Thursday evening, May 23. Authorities reported no fatalities. One survivor who spoke to media says another semi may have been attempting to pass the wide load, “pinning” it to the right as the vehicles reached the bridge.

A narrative of the bridge strike and collapse given to local news by witness and survivor Dan Sligh indicates that the permitted wide load did not have a lot of room to begin with as it approached the nearly 60-year-old bridge.

“We started slowing down, and about that same time another semi-truck came up on the left side,” Sligh told KIRO 7 Seattle. “It almost looked like he pinned that truck over to where he couldn’t swerve.”

Sligh and his wife, who were traveling southbound in a pickup behind the wide load, ended up in the river along with the single occupant of another passenger vehicle.

The trucks made it across.

Canadian trucker William D. Scott, age 41, of Spruce Grove, Alberta, was hauling an over-dimensional steel box known as an equipment casing to Vancouver, WA, according to the Washington State Patrol as reported in the Edmonton Journal.

KIRO 7 Seattle Managing Editor Jake Milstein posted a photo of the load on Twitter.

Scott, who drives for Mullen Trucking based in Aldersyde, Alberta, had a permit and an escort.

A glimpse at Mullen Trucking in U.S. databases shows the company operates 127 power units. Mullen has undergone 273 inspections during the past two years, with three crashes listed on its record but no injuries or fatalities.

The National Transportation Safety Board is joining the investigation into the cause of the bridge collapse.

The age and condition of the bridge is already playing into the conversation even though it passed recent inspections.

The Federal Highway Administration lists the Skagit River Bridge as “fracture critical,” which means it functions but is prone to collapse if a single traumatic event such as a strike from a heavy vehicle occurs.

The U.S. has some 18,000 fracture critical bridges on a list of more than 70,000 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges.

Lawmakers at all levels on up to the president have spoken about the need to inspect, repair and replace deficient bridges in a timely fashion.

Authorities don’t know how long it will take to get the interstate back up and running in the region.

To avoid the mess altogether, northbound trucks can use State Route 9 to bypass Mount Vernon, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. That requires taking Exit 221 at State Route 534 east to northbound Route 9 to Route 20 and westbound to I-5.

An alternate route for northbound traffic is to get off the I-5 at Exit 227, follow East College Way to northbound Riverside Drive/Burlington Boulevard, go west on George Hopper Road and return to northbound I-5.

Southbound traffic is being diverted at Exit 230 at eastbound State Route 20, and proceeding south on Burlington Boulevard, west on East College Way – which is also State Route 538 – and back to southbound I-5.

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