Breaking, hugely consequential news out of Skagit County tonight: A section of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Mount Vernon has collapsed, according to the State Patrol and eyewitness reports on Twitter.
The structural failure occurred just before 7 PM, the State Patrol said. The Skagit County Sheriff said at least three people had been rescued from the water.
The disaster has affected both north and southbound lanes of travel and made I-5 completely impassable between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Traffic is now being rerouted by the State Patrol; there have been huge traffic backups in both directions. Traffic is being detoured to Highway 9 to the east.
A Patrol spokesman says that Governor Inslee and Transportation Secretary Peters have been notified; the spokesman indicated they were both enroute to the area.
(UPDATE: The governor’s office has now confirmed to NPI and other media that Governor Inslee is headed to Skagit County with Secretary Peterson).
Every major Seattle television station has broken into its regular programming to carry live feeds. KOMO has a helicopter on scene already and KIRO and KING are expected to have their own choppers over the scene shortly.
A 2008 report categorized the bridge as “structurally sound and safe”. Obviously, the bridge’s failure makes it painfully apparent this was not the case.
The bridge has also been classified as obsolete, but it had not been listed by the state as structurally deficient, contrary to what some people have said on Twitter.
Photos and videos show that several other sections of the bridge remain standing – the collapse only brought down one section. It is one of last sections over the water.
Rescuers have been working to pull affected motorists out of the water. Police, fire, and paramedics are all on the scene, and a medical helicopter has evidently been employed to ferry injured people to hospitals.
I’ve traveled over this bridge a number of times, most recently on May 12th, when I returned from Vancouver, B.C. It’s scary to see a section of highway I’ve regularly traversed in pieces in the river below.
UPDATE, 9:21 PM: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has halted train traffic over the Skagit River while it inspects its own bridge.
WSDOT’s Travis Phelps has confirmed eyewitness speculation that an overheight vehicle is believed to have triggered the bridge collapse; it apparently struck a girder as it traversed the highway over the Skagit River. The bridge clearance is listed by the State Department of Transportation as fifteen point four (15.4) feet.
No fatalities have been confirmed thus far. Injured individuals have been taken to the Skagit Valley Hospital to be treated.
The news that this bridge collapse was likely caused by an overheight vehicle brings to mind the incident that damaged an overpass near Roslyn a few years ago, as well as this incident from 2011, in which an overheight vehicle damaged the girders that carry Interstate 90 over Highway 18 near North Bend.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is gearing up already to help with the investigation. The agency announced on its Twitter feed that personnel are preparing to depart for the Evergreen State immediately.
NTSB will be sending full go-team to investigate the I-5 Skagik [sic] River bridge collapse in Washington. More details soon.
— NTSB (@NTSB) May 24, 2013
King County Executive Dow Constantine has released a statement offering the resources of the state’s largest county to help with the response.