Bridge collapse: What is the point of bridge inspections if nothing is done and of oversize load permits if no one checks?

When you cross a bridge on a public highway you just assume people have made sure it’s safe. I mean they have to do that don’t they?


Unfortunately we see that is not the case. That bridge over the Skagit River in Northern Washington State on Interstate 5 had even been found lacking in the safety department, according to reports, and yet nothing was done.

An oversize load with a permit clipped part of the supports and down the bridge came the other day, but, fortunately, no one was seriously injured and only a couple of vehicles went into the drink.

One has to wonder what the permit is all about. It is required under the guise of safety. But apparently it is handled more like a bureaucratic revenue scheme — take the money and stamp it. You’re good to go.

In one account I read it said that the load would clear the bridge if it was more in the center, or at least it was thought, but it must have gotten over toward the side where the overhead clearance is less (or for all I know it would not have cleared anyway).

As a trucker myself (I have to make a living somehow; I don’t do oversize loads, though), I have often noticed underpasses and tunnels that have lower clearances at their sides. Kind of scary, I admit.

It seems knowing that the bridge was narrow and that it had that problem of a low clearance, extra precautions would have been taken for that load. But I have seen no report that such was the case or that there was a pilot vehicle. I have seen those pilot vehicles that have the long poles on them to check for clearances.

(A good opening for the pilot car lobby here.)

To make matters worse, one story I read said that there had been a previous incident, within the last year, as I recall, of a truck hitting the bridge supports on that same span, and, in fact, the bridge was listed as being susceptible to collapsing over one hit. The story explained that more modern bridges are constructed in a way so that they have enough redundancy in the supports that one strike will not cause a bridge to collapse. Nothing yet had been done concerning that previous strike, the story said.

And all of this only six years after a much more serious bridge collapse over the Mississippi River at Minneapolis, with many more vehicles going into the water and multiple fatalities.

After that, a large percentage of the nation’s bridges were reported to be either unsafe or in some kind of serious decline in safety. Many of the bridges are too old and not designed to handle modern traffic loads. But somehow not much has been done.

This is where we need to replace petty politics with leadership.

Executives, to include the president and the nation’s governors, should demand that bridge safety be given a top priority. I realize that they don’t have dictatorial power in matters of actual budgeting of projects, but it seems to me in something so vital to public safety and commerce, in other words, the nation’s well being, they must simply order things be done and keep on top of it. All else seems to pale on contrast.

But as often is the case, there is a lot of noise and pontificating, and of course lobbying from the engineers and construction interests, and then it is forgotten about because the political parties and individual politicians want to argue about gay marriage or abortion or Obamacare. I mean two gay guys or girls getting hitched doesn’t hurt me, but a bridge collapse could. And the other issues mentioned could be argued about, but we really need leadership and priorities.

And, this idea that someone is making sure things are safe. Don’t count on it.


And all that gets me back to my idea that political office should not be a profession. Professional politicians tend to stick to hot button issues to stir things up and generate dollars for their campaign funds by appealing to prejudice, ignorance, and intolerance. For some reason it seems harder to generate campaign dollars and interest by just doing what is good for the public as a whole (and the public as a whole in its ignorance pretty much deserves what it gets). But people who served on a part-time basis for just a stipend might have a different point of view. I know, then the lobbyists would take over. Well they already have really, so what do we have to lose? The elected people are supposed to be in charge. We just need to elect stronger and more independent people. But I also know that just being independently wealthy does not make someone less susceptible to the political money game. You just have to elect honest people. But where to find them, that is the problem.

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