Writings and observations.

Bridges

Skagit bridge
 
The collapsed Interstate 5 bridge across the Skagit River (photo/Washington Department of Transportation)

 

Maybe 100 yards from our house, a bridge we use regularly was replaced across a narrow river fork. The bridge was showing some signs of cracking and crumbling, and the need to do something about it was fairly clear. Something was done. We have a new bridge now, and one most of us feel confident about traversing. We give it no second thought, and neither do the drivers of pickups and logging trucks who regularly use it too.

We would have expected as much, at least, of the bridges on Interstate 5, one of the nation’s major throughfares. A lot rides on those bridges. Lives do, for one thing. So does commerce, and emergency traffic, and much else.

The fact that no lives were lost in the Thursday night collapse has been described as nearly miraculous, which it may have been (and obviously a good thing it came out that way, too). But the use of the word “miraculous” is demonstration of how large the probability was that someone might have died.

Apparently, it didn’t take much to take the piece of a bridge down, just a bump from an apparently oversized truck. (This should restart some discussion of just how large trucks on our highways ought to be.) The driver, from reports we’ve seen, was acting responsibly. No one seems to have been violating established standards. But does that suggest the standards might be revisited?

Reliability is one of the key qualities of our transportation system. As it ages, that quality diminishes, unless we do something actively about it.

Share on Facebook