What could be more foreboding than the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River last Thursday night? Here was an event that brings us up short — here is one of those catastrophic events that epitomizes the expression ‘worst case scenario.’
So it was that an oversized truck hit the bridge structure in just the right place to bring down a key piece of our state’s increasingly fragile infrastructure. It was absolutely amazing that no one was killed. Those who survived were in newer vehicles with advanced safety features built in.
Left to ponder this event in the coming months or even years will be the some 70,000 daily commuters, truckers, shippers, travelers and college students headed to Western Washington University who must detour around the bridge onto a smaller and subsequently extremely congested side bridge that itself was not meant to withstand these loads. For business people in the towns of Burlington and Mount Vernon, there will other impacts to consider — primarily in the form of lost income.
And so what caused this to happen? First, the bridge is old and worn out — the product of another era, weakened by years of abuse. Next, the oversized truck, allowed by law (but not by sense) was traveling on a structure not designed to handle it. Yes, the driver should have been in the other lane, etc. But leaving safety to split-second decisions by drivers, both imperfect or tired, is not a good standard. Like many bridges in this state, it should have been replaced or undergone significant repairs years ago.
It reminds us of a story we reported last week on the huge double tractor-trailer hauling gravel that overturned on East Mercer Way. It makes us think about the arguments against tolls that leave us asking, just who will pay to fix for our aging roads and bridges before it is too late? These old and unsafe structures will continue to deteriorate as lawsuits and studies drag on.
Those planners and engineers — a virtual tidal wave of Chicken Littles with their computer models and pocket protectors — have been warning us. The sky is falling. And no one pays attention until the sky does fall.