A year after I-5 span fell, aging bridges abound

MOUNT VERNON — A year after an oversized truck knocked a section of the I-5 bridge into the Skagit River, traffic is flowing over the replacement span. But dozens of other aging bridges in Washington are still listed as deficient, and an online state bridge map for truckers is stalled for lack of funding.

Two vehicles with three people fell into the water on May 23, 2013. No one died, but state Trooper Sean O’Connell was killed a week later while detouring traffic through Mount Vernon and Burlington.

A temporary span was in place in a month. A permanent span opened in September, and work was completed in November to square off the arched support beams and raise the clearance on the I-5 Skagit River bridge.

The U.S. Department of Transportation 2013 National Bridge Inventory released in April shows that of the nearly 8,000 bridges in Washington, 5 percent are structurally deficient and 21 percent are functionally obsolete, the Skagit Valley Herald reported Friday.

The state Transportation Department lists more than 3,700 bridges in its inventory, 141 of which are listed as structurally deficient, said spokesman Bart Treece.

Structurally deficient does not mean the bridge is unsafe, said DeWayne Wilson, bridge management engineer for the state Transportation Department’s Bridge and Structures Office. If a bridge is unsafe for traffic, it will be closed, he said. A bridge is structurally deficient when it is in need of rehabilitation or replacement because at least one major component is deemed in poor or worse condition.

Functionally obsolete means the design standards are outdated. The rating system is used to prioritize bridges for repair or maintenance.

The average age of Washington’s state-owned vehicular bridges is 41 years, and 232 bridges are 75 years old or older. Since 2004, 703 new bridges have been constructed in the state and 138 bridges have undergone major reconstruction.

Meanwhile, a plan to publicize the height limitations of bridges with an interactive online map is going nowhere, The News Tribune reported Thursday.

“We’ve started working on it, but it’s not funded so we have to get the money out of something else,” said Chris Keegan, a Transportation Department operations engineer who oversees bridge preservation and maintenance in the department’s Olympic Region. “It’s a very slow process.”

The first step is updating all clearance measurements to make sure they are accurate.

“Some of them haven’t been updated in 20 years,” Keegan said. “Until we get a good handle on the clearances, we can’t do the map.”

For decades, the Transportation Department published bridge clearances in a printed booklet. The information is now online, but it’s a 433-page PDF file that’s awkward to use.

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