Baltimore bridge collapse: WSDOT reflects on parallels with 2013 Skagit River Bridge drop

The collapse of the Baltimore Key Bridge startled the nation, and was a cause for WSDOT to reflect on its own bridge projects spanning waterways around Seattle.

The city’s busy port and the highways’ proximity to multiple waterways and canals create a unique risk to thousands of motorists every day.

"It reminds us on, ‘What do we do here in Washington state to ensure the preservation and integrity of our bridges?" said RB McKeon, a spokesperson for WSDOT.

The major bridge collapse in Baltimore also raised questions about the safety and integrity of bridges in Washington. WSDOT said it has a dedicated unit of workers specializing in bridge preservation and bridge maintenance.

"Our bridges are all on a two-year inspection cycle. So, specialty crews go out, and they do a pretty robust bridge inspection on a two-year cycle. And then, of course, if a bridge maintenance crew would be out and see something that may pique their interest that looks a little bit out of the ordinary, they take an extra look outside of that two-year cycle," said McKeon.

The bridge in Baltimore plunged into the water after a container ship lost power and slammed into a bridge support. Images of the fall were reminiscent to the I-5 Skagit River Bridge, which dropped 11 years ago. It sent three people and two vehicles underwater.

It was May 23, 2013, when a freight truck carrying a tall load struck the bridge's trusswork, causing the northernmost span of the bridge to break apart into the river. All victims were rescued, and federal funding was provided to repair the bridge, which was completed within four months.

"There were some great lessons learned from that. WSDOT implemented and was able to share with other DOTs. So, definitely any time we can learn and improve what we do, we do that," said McKeon.

With more than 7,300 bridges in the state, WSDOT said repairing and reconstructing the most vulnerable is a priority. 

"We’re building differently today than what we built back in the 60s," said Steve Peer, a spokesperson for WSDOT’s State Route 520 Construction Project

Three bridges above Lake Washington, Union Bay, and Portage Bay in Seattle are receiving upgrades as part of an extensive construction project on State Route 520.

"520 was built back in the 60s; 1963 we opened. And it’s reached its end of life. And so, what was built in the 60s is vulnerable to earthquakes. We have better codes now. We want to add an HOV lane for high occupancy vehicles and buses," said Peer. "So, we’re doing all of that, plus we’re adding trails for people to use not motorized. We have a 14-foot-wide trail that goes across the lake and some 1,200 people are using it every day. It’s going to be a great facility for folks. Of that three acres, 60% of that will be green space. There will be lots of trails and trees and bus canopies and ways to get across 520 that people didn’t even imagine in the 60s."

The construction project on State Route 520 is ongoing, as crews work in phases to reduce traffic disruptions. The final project is scheduled to finish in 2030.

In 1990, the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, built in the 1940s, sank underwater in Lake Washington. It was during a storm when the decaying bridge on I-90 connecting Seattle to the east side fell. Officials said the floating bridge was rebuilt and reopened in 1993.


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WSDOT is encouraging the public to report any suspicions or odd findings on bridges to help crews address potential risks immediately.