Skagit River bridge collapse raises concerns over safety, infrastructure
The recent collapse of the I-5 bridge in Mount Vernon, Wash., has raised concern both over state regulations in trucking practices and in bridge infrastructure nationwide.
The bridge collapsed May 23 when an over-sized truck damaged ten overhead crossbeams, according to local TV station, King 5 News. Two vehicles fell into the water, sending three people to the hospital. Although a pilot car was used, the truck continued forward, eye-witnesses say after they saw the pilot car’s pole strike the bridge’s cross beams.
Washington requires pilot car drivers to be licensed, which includes a day’s training and a test, according to King 5 News. Additionally, Washington is in the minority of states that does not require drivers follow a pre-determined route. They are provided by the Washington Department of Transportation, but only if requested.
Herb Reynolds, a pilot car driver, questions why the truck was allowed to proceed despite height concerns, calling the accident "preventable." King 5 News reports that the National Traffic Saftey Board said Sunday they were still trying to interview the pilot car driver guiding the truck.
“We’ve gotten phone calls from all over the country with drivers we work with wanting to know what is going on,” another pilot driver, Al Jensen, told King 5 News. “If the pilot car hit the bridge, why did the truck driver keep going?”
“This happens,” Reynolds told King 5 News, “and it shouldn’t.”
The bridge collapse also has reignited a national debate over the state of America’s infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2013 infrastructure report card notes that 5 percent of Washington’s 7,743 bridges are structurally deficient, with 20 percent being functionally obsolete.
The Skagit River Bridge falls into the latter category, meaning that its design is outdated. The bridge was built in 1955 and has a federal sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to King 5 News. A total of 42 of Skagit county’s 108 bridges are at least 50 years old, eight are more than 70 years old and two are more than 80 years old, according to the report.
The ASCE’s report found that one in nine of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient, with 42 being the average age of an American bridge. The report estimates that $20.5 billion would have to be invested annually to eliminate the problem by 2028, as opposed to the 12.8 billion currently being spent.
Marie Lopez Rogers, mayor of Avondale Ariz., and National League of Cities president says the bridge collapse highlights the growing infrastructure problem. “[The] bridge collapse in Washington reminds us of the risk we take when we don’t properly invest in our nation’s infrastructure. For too long, as a nation, we’ve neglected to invest in the basic infrastructure of our hometowns,” she said in a statement.