Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Officials have confirmed a truck collided with the trusses.
A segment of a bridge on Interstate 5 north of Seattle collapsed on Thursday evening, plunging four lanes of the highway into the 46-degree Skagit River.
Witnesses say a truck carrying an oversize load collided with the trusses on the 1,111-foot bridge at around 7 p.m., dropping a quarter of the span into the water. As a crowd gathered on the banks and traffic ground to a halt, drivers sat on the roofs of half-submerged cars, waiting for help. Two people were hospitalized with hypothermia.
Washington State Police have confirmed that the collapse occurred after a truck struck the overhead of the bridge.
The bridge was reported to be in sufficient structural condition, according to rankings from infrastructure watchdogs. Built in 1955, it had been rated "functionally obsolete" on its last two inspections, indicating that some aspect of its design was considered out of date. But it was not considered deficient, and passed an inspection as recently as August 2010 with middling ratings for its deck, superstructure and substructure. Local news affiliate KIRO reported that the bridge received a rating of 47 out of 100 in the state database, and 57 in a national database. (The average statewide bridge rating is 80, according to the Associated Press.)
Still, it's likely this incident will lead to renewed calls for a national infrastructure bank to help fund improvements to highways, bridges, and railroads. Spending on public construction has plummeted in the past few years, and the ASCE has warned that current infrastructure spending will leave U.S. roads, rails and ports woefully unequipped by 2020. Others say infrastructure is getting better, and that U.S. investment is actually on par with the Europe's.
In 2011, Transportation for America gave Washington one of the best ratings for bridge maintenance in the nation, with only -- only? -- 5 percent of the state's bridges "structurally deficient." The bridge that collapsed on Thursday evening wasn't one of them.
Top image: Gina Cole/Associated Press