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Feeling ‘crowded’ likely not contributor to I-5 bridge collapse

The Washington state Department of Transportation said its crews worked through last weekend on the first of two temporary bridge spans designed to bridge the gap in the bridge caused by the accident. (Courtesy: WASHINGTON DOT)

The Trucker News Services

6/13/2013

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The fact that the driver of the oversize load felt “crowded” may have had little — if anything — to do with the fact his truck struck the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River causing the bridge to collapse, according to information compiled during the investigation of the accident.

As the oversize load was being transported across the bridge, the top of the load collided with the overhead portal and multiple sway braces on the far right side of the truss structure, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its preliminary report issues Tuesday about the accident.

The impact caused significant damage to load-bearing members of the bridge’s superstructure, resulting in the failure and subsequent collapse of the northernmost bridge span, the report said.

The NTSB said in the report that the driver of the oversize load reported that when he felt “crowded” by a passing big rig, he moved his vehicle to the right.

But the fact that he was already in the right lane and the fact that his pilot vehicle failed to recognize the bridge’s height appear to have already doomed his fate before the big rig passed him.

The oversize load was led by a pilot pick-up truck that the NTSB said had a clearance pole 16 feet 2 inches high.

The oversized load height was 15 feet 9 inches.

According to investigators, the edge of the bridge hit by the truck was 14-feet-8 inches.

A graphic used in a report by television station KING in Seattle showed an 18-foot clearance at the center of the bridge, dropping off to 14 feet 8 inches in the right hand lane.

Sources familiar with the investigation told The Trucker that the bridge height in the left hand lane would have accommodated the oversized load.

The NTSB said the pilot vehicle driver was in the same lane as the truck.

KING reported Tuesday that the female driver of the pilot vehicle said in a statement released last week that she was “legally” on the phone with her husband and that her pole didn’t hit the bridge; therefore, she said she saw no reason to warn the driver of the oversized load.

Meanwhile, the Washington state Department of Transportation said that its crews worked through the weekend making repairs, pouring concrete and finishing construction of the steel framework on the first of two temporary bridge spans designed to bridge the gap in the structure caused by the accident.

With the new bridge supports complete, and first span of the temporary bridge over the Skagit River, crews now have room to begin work building the second temporary span.

Crews expect to work around-the-clock shifts as much as possible until the temporary span is complete. WSDOT plans to finish construction on the temporary span and reopen I-5 to traffic sometime next week.

“Getting to this point hasn’t been easy,” said Jay Drye, WSDOT assistant regional administrator. “Each step of removing and replacing the damaged bridge span has to be carefully choreographed to maximize efficiency, speed and safety.”

To move the first temporary span into place, crews first had to carefully and safely remove the fallen span from the fast-flowing Skagit River, create new concrete pedestals to support the temporary bridge and make repairs to the remaining sections of the Skagit River Bridge.

“It’s a lot like building a house,” Drye said. “There is no point having the roofer on your construction site if the foundation hasn’t been poured yet. Now we’ve reached the point where we can really pick up the pace.”

Truckers can sign up for email updates about the progress of the work on the temporary bridge at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/SkagitRiverBridgeReplacement.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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