On Thursday, May 23, at around 7:00 p.m., cars and people fell into the Skagit River when the Interstate 5 Bridge in Washington State collapsed. The ongoing investigation into what caused the collapse may indicate that it was the result of a trucking accident.
When the bridge fell into the river, a travel trailer and two vehicles fell into the river and the occupants had to be pulled from the water by rescue teams. Fortunately, no one was killed, but three individuals sustained injuries and were taken to hospitals. Dan and Sally Sligh were treated at Skagit Valley Hospital for a separated shoulder, cuts and bruises. The couple was hauling a travel trailer on their way to their camping destination. The man in the other vehicle was taken to United General Hospital and his condition was reported as stable.
Reportedly, the trucker, who was hauling an oversized load, bumped the bridge’s steel framework just before the collapse. He was interviewed by National Transportation Safety Board investigators on May 25. Chief of the Washington State Patrol, John Batiste, stated that the semi was in the right lane of the bridge when they believe it struck a girder. The driver remained on the scene and has, according to authorities, been cooperative.
Every day, over 77,000 vehicles crossed the Skagit River Bridge, making the bridge collapse a major inconvenience for commuters and travelers. The bridge was built in 1955 and was listed as “functionally obsolete,” which indicates the design was outdated but not structurally deficient. Federal records indicate the bridge’s sufficiency rating was 57.4/100 which is below the statewide average but better than 759 of the state’s other bridges. Though lawmakers have been focusing on some bridges in the state, the Skagit River Interstate 5 Bridge was not one of them.
Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, announced plans for a possible temporary replacement in June, followed by a permanent fix by the end of September. Reportedly, the estimated total cost of fixing the bridge is $15 million. The temporary replacement would be narrower and would not allow oversized loads.
According to Debbie Hersman, the National Transportation Safety Board Chairman, this particular bridge has a “history” of being struck by semis with oversized loads, with the most recent incident prior to the bridge collapse occurring in October, 2012. Furthermore, according to Hersman, “If this vehicle had been traveling in the left lane, we likely would not have seen the bridge strikes that we saw, but we need to take measurements all the way through.”
Pilot cars play a crucial role in maintaining highway safety and preventing trucking accidents when semis are hauling oversize loads. This truck had a pilot car that carried a measuring device that should have alerted the truck if it was approaching a space that couldn’t accommodate the oversized load. Some witnesses have claimed they saw the measuring pole of the pilot car hit the bridge but investigators are yet to make a judgment.