Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday that when a truck carrying an oversize load hit the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River, the concrete surface of the bridge deck “slid off the girders, like frosting sliding off a cake.”
At a Saturday afternoon press conference, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said from the visible damage, investigators have identified compression buckles, compound fractures, and bending in the bridge frame that’s in the water.
“The bending and buckling of the bridge is telling our investigators where the failure originated and how it propagated,” she said.
Hersman said investigators have interviewed the truck driver, and he described that his first indication of anything being wrong was when he heard and felt contact with the bridge. The driver pulled over and was told by another motorist that a portion of the bridge had fallen.
The 41-year-old driver said he had met the driver of the pilot car at the Canadian border and made arrangements with her to notify him of any problems via radio communication. He said he followed the pilot car and both were in the right lane as they crossed the bridge.
“The truck driver also reported that there was another commercial vehicle, traveling in the left lane, as he was on the bridge,” Hersman said.
Hersman said the driver had a permit for a load measuring 15 feet, 9 inches and he reported measuring the height of his load multiple times along the route.
But Hersman said the bridge portal is higher in the middle than it is on the outside corners near the shoulders.
“The permit was for 15 feet, 9 inches. This bridge, at its lowest point, the clearance is 14 feet, 6 inches. The bridge clearance, at its lowest point, that’s on the outside of the bridge near the shoulder - and as I mentioned it’s an elliptical bridge so you have more clearance towards the middle of the bridge – those clearances, those heights, are not posted on the bridge, and so it is the responsibility of the operator, solely to determine if they can clear through all of the structures on their route,” said Hersman.
Washington state does not require vertical clearance to be posted unless the clearance is 14 feet, 4 inches or less, Hersman said.
Officials plan to interview the driver of the pilot car.
NEW video courtesy of Ayman Mohyeldin shows the moments leading up to the accident and the impact.
Officials are looking for a temporary, pre-fabricated bridge to replace the 160-foot section that failed. If one is found, it could be in place in weeks. If not, it could be months before a replacement can be built.
WSDOT has hired Atkinson Construction to begin removal of the fallen bridge section from the Skagit River. Saturday night, barges were to begin to float in heavy cutting and lifting equipment.
Crews must remove the fallen span from the river before final inspections of the bridge and piers can be completed. Once the inspections are complete, WSDOT engineers can begin designing a preferred option for repairing the bridge and reopening the corridor as soon as possible.
Detour information from WSDOT
The Department of Transportation will continue to modify the detour routes. Find up-to-date information at the following locations
There are several ways you can keep updated on traffic through the area:
- Download the Seattle Traffic App for your mobile device
- Sign up for KING 5 Traffic Text Alerts
- Visit the KING 5 Traffic page
- Follow KING 5's Tracy Taylor @King5TracyT on Twitter
- Call 511
Planes, trains are an alternative to automobiles
Drivers are facing two, even three-hour delays because of bridge detours. Some companies are offering travelers an alternative to driving.
Amtrak and BNSF are taking on more passengers. Alaska Airlines also announced a special fare of $99 each way, Seattle to Bellingham, through June 1. Some people are flying via Kenmore Air
Amtrak says it plans to add one daily round trip between Seattle and Bellingham.
In a statement, Amtrak, WSDOT, Sound Transit and BNSF Railway said they're working together to add the service. It would involve a morning departure from Seattle to Bellingham with an early evening return to help those who normally drive the route. Spokesmen said more details will be released as they become available.
Amtrak says its Amtrak Cascades service provides four trips each day over the Skagit River Rail Bridge, which remains fully functional.