History of Western Washington bridge disasters



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Posted on May 27, 2013 at 6:57 PM

Updated Monday, May 27 at 7:00 PM

Perhaps the most spectacular bridge collapse in U.S. history happened here in Western Washington. In November 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disintegrated during a windstorm.

Nicknamed “Galloping Gertie,” the incident is still taught as a classic physics lesson in bad design and engineering.

In June 1978, one span of the West Seattle Bridge was left permanently stuck in the open position after being hit by a freighter. A high rise bridge was eventually built to replace it.

The next year, in February 1979, a storm with 100 mph winds doomed the western half of the Hood Canal Bridge. That replacement took three years.
Seattle's most famous bridge disaster happened in November 1990--a victim of severe storms and a rushed renovation project. The 50 year old I-90 Bridge -- the world's first floating bridge -- broke apart and sank into Lake Washington, taking huge construction machines with it. An investigation later determined the contractor had cut holes in the sides of the pontoons but failed to cover them before a week of high winds and heavy rain.

The State Route 520 Evergreen point floating bridge didn't sink, but was severely damaged in July 2000, after a tug boat missed it's turn to the locks and slammed a barge into a bridge support column. Turns out the tugboat captain had fallen asleep.

And now, another Washington state bridge disaster -- the Skagit River Bridge -- is making headlines around the world and snarling traffic here at home. The lessons from this one--still to be determined.

According to our records, no one was killed or even seriously hurt in any of these bridge disasters.