Troubled Bridge Over Washington Water Collapses into 'Big Puff of Dust'

Late Thursday, a bridge over the Skagit River north of Seattle collapsed, taking at least two cars (and the people inside them) with it. They both survived, but it's the infrastructure conversation all over again. Get ready to talk about "functionally obsolete."

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Late Thursday, a bridge over the Skagit River north of Seattle collapsed, taking at least two cars (and the people inside them) with it. While the cause of the collapse isn't yet known, three people were rescued from the site of the collapse as the sun set in the area. There were no reported fatalities.

As of early Friday morning, officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation were investigating the possibility that an oversized load may have struck the bridge's span, catalyzing the collapse: 

The bridge handled about 71,000 trips a day on average, according to its 2010 inspection report, which rated the bridge as "functionally obsolete" with a sufficiency rating of "57.4 (out of 100)":

Inspection (as of 08/2010)
Deck condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Superstructure condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
Appraisal: Functionally obsolete
Sufficiency rating: 57.4 (out of 100)

The bridge was also labeled "functionally obsolete" in 2000, and the more severe designation of "structurally deficient" in 1992. Here's the description of the bridge's deficiences from the most recent inspection report:

"Bank is beginning to slump. River control devices and embankment protection have widespread minor damage. There is minor stream bed movement evident. Debris is restricting the channel slightly."

According to the report, the bridge foundations were stable.

"Functionally obsolete" is a federal definition that can note deficiencies ranging from the bridge's width to its underpass clearance — i.e. it doesn't always mean the bridge has been labeled as unsafe (though, of course, a collapsed bridge isn't exactly safe). If a bridge is both "functionally obsolete" and "structurally deficient," it'd take the latter category. King5 notes that the bridge does have a weight restriction on it. Washington does seem to have something of a bridge problem on its hands, however: a recent report found Washington State has nearly 400 structurally deficient bridges, and over 7,000 total bridges that are either deficient or functionally obsolete. According to the Associated Press, the average sufficiency rating for bridges in the state is 80. 

It looks like the river at the site is about 18 feet deep right now

This appears to be the bridge in question: 

The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the collapse:

NTSB is gathering info regarding the I-5 Skagik River bridge collapse in Washington.

— NTSB (@NTSB) May 24, 2013

Here's an bird's eye view of the collapse:

Earlier in the evening it looked like at least one person is sitting on top of a partially submerged car after the collapse:

Another person is sitting on top of a truck:

Here are few pictures of the collapse from local news outlets: 

As KOMO notes, the high-traffic bridge will probably be rebuilt, but it'll be out of commission for the foreseeable future. There are, however, a handful of bridges crossing the river nearby.

Update, Friday morning: Dan Sligh and his wife are talking to the AP about the collapse, as the bridge gave way in a "big puff of dust" for them and a man in another car.


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.