WSDOT creates tool to help truckers avoid low bridges

SEATTLE — Hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2013 Skagit River Bridge collapse, state transportation officials have created a new online tool to help truckers plan their routes and avoid collisions.

A section of that bridge on Interstate 5 fell into the Skagit River on May, 23 2013 after a truck carrying a tall load hit the bridge in Mount Vernon, about 60 miles north of Seattle. Two other vehicles also went into the water and three people had to be rescued. The drivers survived but a state trooper was killed while handling all the traffic.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated and said one of the causes was insufficient route planning. It recommended better warnings of low-clearance bridges. At the time of the collapse, the bridge carried about 70,000 vehicles a day along I-5, the state’s major north-south roadway between Oregon and Canada. Workers installed an emergency span and then replaced it with a permanent one later that year.

The Washington State Department of Transportation responded by creating a tool called the “state route bridge vertical clearance trip planner.” It’s a database that allows truck drivers to enter their trip information and it provides warnings about potential conflicts. Officials the drivers will still be responsible for checking clearance levels, but the tool makes it easier when applying for trip permits.

“This innovation offers truckers a new tool to find the safest route for their trip,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “It applies lessons learned from the Skagit River Bridge replacement, and it will reduce the risk of collisions throughout the system.”

The Washington Trucking Association helped develop the tool and its members conducted beta testing on it.

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Sheri Call, the association’s vice president of government of relations. Before the tool, drivers had to look up bridge data online or in a book and then consult their own maps, she said.

The trip planner database will be available to navigation app developers, who have expressed interest in the data, state officials said.

“We’ve taken advantage of existing technology to help improve safety on our roads,” Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said. “Sharing this data through private-public partnerships will help get this information into even more customers’ hands.”

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