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WSDOT unsure why lumber flew off Tacoma viaduct site onto road

The Washington state Department of Transportation is trying to figure out what went wrong on Saturday when dozens of pieces of construction lumber on the Nalley Valley viaduct project on Highway 16 came loose and fell onto the roadway below, smashing into pieces as drivers watched in disbelief. 

'Raining lumber'

Drivers on South Tacoma Way, where the wood landed, couldn't believe what they were seeing.

"It's like raining lumber under this overpass," said Tamara Miller-Glahn, a KPLU employee who happened to witness the incident.

As she looked up, she saw broken plywood and more four-by-fours dangling 100 feet up.

“It would have been very serious if somebody was right there, and they could have been,” she said.

In fact, a man on a moped was within feet of where the construction materials fell. What saved him was the fact that he’d stopped short of the viaduct to help another motorist who’d run out of gas.

WSDOT suprised by wood fall

Washington Department of Transportation spokeswoman Claudia Bingham-Baker is puzzled by what happened.

"In the 20-plus years I've been in construction, I've never seen this happen," she said.

Bingham-Baker says it’s standard practice for contractors working on road projects to store construction materials on a bridge as it’s being completed. After Saturday's incident, she says, the contractor moved about half the material being stored on the viaduct.

Bingham-Baker says the state will know more after it gets a complete briefing from the construction contractor. 

"We'll find out what happened and what we’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

History of trouble with viaduct project

This particular road construction project, known as the Nalley Valley viaduct project, has had its share of troubles. Last January, while the old Nalley Valley Viaduct was being deconstructed, a section collapsed, crushing underground water and gas lines on South Tacoma Way.

In 2010,a million-dollar design mistake resulted in the state Department of Transportation building an offramp from eastbound state Route 16 in the wrong place. It had to be redone.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.