Trucking Company “Baffled” By Bridge Collapse, Not Engineers

By Austin Jenkins

The trucking company involved in the Skagit River bridge collapse had no serious safety violations. That’s according to U.S. Department of Transportation records. A vice president for the company says he’s “baffled” how one of his trucks could have brought down a bridge. But engineers say it’s possible – especially with an older truss-style bridge.

When Jugesh Kapur was in charge of the bridge department at the Washington Department of Transportation, he says about once a month he’d get a report of a truck or some other moving object striking a bridge.

Jugesh Kapur: “Just so many of them”

But these “bridge hits” – as he calls them – never brought down a bridge.

Jugesh Kapur: “We’ve had extensive damage, but nothing of this magnitude.”

The State Patrol says Thursday evening an oversize load struck key supports on the I-5 steel truss bridge over the Skagit River. Seconds later a 150 foot section of the 1955 structure gave way. Two vehicles containing three people plunged into the swirling waters below. Amazingly all survived with minimal injuries. The company involved – Mullen Trucking out of Alberta, Canada – has a safety record better than most according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

One of its drivers was cited for unsafe driving in Washington in March. A vice president for the company told me quote “We pride ourselves on being one of the safest carriers in North America.” He went on to say “we’re baffled on this.” So is the driver of the oversize load, according to his wife who spoke with the CBC.

Cynthia Scott: “It wasn’t like he tore the bridge down. It was coming down and he was barely making it out.”

Cynthia Scott says from the picture’s she’s seen it looks like the load her husband was pulling – oil rig equipment - has minimal damage to just one corner.

Cynthia Scott: “Even if it did kind of clip it, it shouldn’t have been able to take a whole bridge down.”

But the physics are there. Former WSDOT chief bridge engineer Jugesh Kapur says a truck strike in the wrong spot on a truss bridge could bring it tumbling down.

Jugesh Kapur: “Generally these kinds of bridges are not designed for a huge impact to the truss members. So when something huge and massive hits them there is the possibility that you may cause extensive damage or collapse of the bridge.”

A note here: Kapur recently lost his job as head of bridges with WSDOT over cracks in the pontoons for the new 520 bridge in Seattle. Still he had nothing but praise for the agency’s bridge safety program. State and federal investigators will now work to figure out what exactly triggered the collapse of the Skagit bridge - a process that could take weeks, if not months.

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