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NTSB: Systematic Errors Led To Skagit Bridge Collapse

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
An Interstate 5 bridge over a Skagit river collapsed north of Seattle Thursday evening May 23, 2013, dumping two vehicles into the water and sparking a rescue effort by boats and divers as three injured people were pulled from the chilly waterway.

A series of mistakes led a truck to strike an overhead girder of the Interstate 5 bridge, causing it to collapse into the Skagit River last year, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an exhaustive list of safety recommendations released Tuesday.

The findings said both the trucking company and the driver of the overheight truck failed to adequately plan the route, but that wasn’t the only factor. The driver of the pilot car was on her hands-free cellphone at the time of the crash, and failed to communicate the low clearance to the driver, the report said.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s permitting process also came under fire. As it stands now, the onus is largely on trucking companies to map out their trip using online tools from the state in order to secure permits.

WSDOT spokesman Lars Erickson says the department is working to make it easier for truckers to look up height limitations in the giant online catalog. But he’s quick to point out that the NTSB also called for tighter national standards.

“When you look at it [the report], again, it’s not saying there’s a Washington state problem here. They’re looking at it and saying there are issues of these operations across the country. There should be a national effort, and we absolutely want to be a part of that,” Erickson said.

The NTSB has asked the Federal Highway Administration to come up with a guide preventing bridge accidents for states to follow.

The investigation also showed that the truck driver was following the pilot vehicle too closely, and even if the pilot driver had cautioned the trucker, he probably couldn’t have stopped in time. 

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