June 3, 2013 – Two weeks ago, a large truck carrying a tall load struck a portion of an Interstate 95 bridge over the Skagit River between Seattle and Canada, sending the portion of the bridge and several cars into the river below. Miraculously, no one died and only a handful of people were injured.
According to the AP report, investigators were initially unsure whether the bridge collapsed on its own, but later concluded the collapse occurred when a tractor-trailer carrying a tall load hit an upper section of the bridge. Case closed – just another too-tall-truck-that-hit-a-too-small bridge accident. Nothing to get too excited over. Wrong!
Washington State’s Transportation Secretary, Lynn Peterson, told the AP that the bridge had been inspected and repaired last year, noting that it is “an older bridge that needs a lot of work.” The Federal Highway Administration listed the bridge, which was built in 1955, as being “functionally obsolete,” and gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 47 out of 100 in November 2012 – not so good.
By the way, “functionally obsolete” refers to the function of the geometrics of the bridge in relation to the geometrics required by current design standards. Facilities, including bridges, are designed to conform to the standards in place at the time they are designed. For example, a bridge designed in the 1930s would have shoulder widths that conform to the design standards of the 1930s. The difference between the required, current-day shoulder width and the 1930s’ designed shoulder width represents a deficiency. The magnitude of these types of deficiencies determines whether a bridge is classified as functionally obsolete. The bridge in question is functionally obsolete, meaning it is no longer designed to conform to today’s standards.
This is just another example of what happens when we under-invest in our infrastructure. We allow trucks to get bigger to lower their costs, yet we do not provide enough revenue to alter the design of bridges to accommodate those same trucks. Make sense to you? Me neither – yet we all do it. In fact, I recently saw a whole show on example after example of too-big-truck-hitting or getting stuck under too-small-bridge. Very funny in some people’s eyes – until something like this happens.
How many more times does this have to happen before someone figures out that we need a plan to fix this situation? (Remember the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota six years ago?) How many more reasons can politicians find for not providing adequate funding and demanding a national program be developed? Where is the accountability?
Oh, by the way, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is making $1 million of federal emergency fund dollars available to Washington officials to help cover the cost of building temporary bridges until a new permanent bridge can be built. Shouldn’t we have a national plan to fix the bridges we already know need fixing instead of waiting for catastrophes like this to occur? Never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.
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