Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cool video shows crews sliding new I-5 bridge into place

Take a minute today and watch a cool piece of video of crews sliding the brand-new Skagit River Bridge into place on Interstate 5 in Washington state. The permanent span replaces a temporary span that had been in place since June following the collapse of a bridge section in May.

The Washington State Department of Transportation links to the video in an informative press release about the project and the retrofit, noting that crews needed to close the highway for only 19 hours to swap out the temporary span with the new span. You can see this incredible feat of engineering unfold in about a minute-and-a-half.

The permanent structure opened to traffic at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, less than six months after a truck hauling an oversized load over the bridge struck overhead bridge supports. The strike caused damage to the supports and sent a 160-foot section of the bridge and two passenger vehicles behind the truck into the Skagit River below. Thankfully, there were no fatalities.

Investigators have released preliminary reports containing testimony from the drivers of most of the vehicles involved, including the trucker who was hauling the oversized load. But the be-all, end-all final report is still pending.

The trucker, a Canadian driver working for a company out of Alberta, told investigators that another tractor-trailer had attempted to overtake or pass his truck as the vehicles arrived at the bridge. That crowded the oversized hauler to the right, where the overhead bridge supports were lower than in the middle of the bridge.

The truck had enough clearance to navigate down the middle of the arched supports, but did not have the clearance at the right-hand shoulder.

We’ve heard from some truckers, some of whom haul oversized loads, and they openly question the role of the pilot car in this case and whether everyone was following protocol. Simply put, this incident should not have happened. Those are questions for the investigators, the folks who provided the permits, the trucker and the pilot car driver. Investigators have never identified or been able to find this so-called “second truck.”

Anyhow, back to the coolness of the bridge video and the project. It provides a glimpse into the future of bridge construction and replacement. And trust me, Congress and policymakers are paying attention.

There’s been a lot of talk about speeding up project delivery and reducing red tape for transportation projects. Congress mandated this be done in the current highway bill.

The I-5 bridge in Washington state is a prime example of how to do it without the need for a yearlong detour or restriction. It’s too bad it takes a bridge collapse for everyone to pull together on this.