Bridge collapse calls into question other bridges' safety

May 24, 2013 3:03:36 PM PDT
A bridge collapse in Washington State is putting new focus on the condition of bridges throughout the country.

The I-5 Bridge between Seattle and Canada suddenly broke apart and fell into a river last night after a truck hit an overhead bridge girder.

Two vehicles plunged into the river and remarkably, everyone survived.

The average age of a bridge in the United States is 42.

Most of the bridges in New York and New Jersey are much older, as was the bridge that collapsed near Seattle.

That bridge also has a rather troubling similarity to one of the busiest bridges in New York.

"We have vehicles in the water," law enforcement said.

Bridges are supposed to have redundancy built into them, but not this one.

When the cargo from a truck struck a support girder on the nearly 60-year-old span north of Seattle, it gave way.

"I hit the brakes and the weight of trailer, we went right off with the bridge," said Dan Sligh, survivor.

Amazingly, the three motorists tossed into the river survived.

To engineers, this bridge is known as "fractured critical", meaning if one key element gives out or is damaged, and it could collapse.

In our area, the Tappan Zee Bridge is known as a "fracture critical span".

"I will never go over that bridge," said Barry LePatner, a bridge expert.

Construction Attorney Barry LePatner who has been writing about the nation's unsafe bridges, says the Tappan Zee is on borrowed time, like so many other bridges.

"The Governor's assistance called it and for good reason, the hold your breath bridge," LePatner said.

The state insists the bridge is structurally sound for now and has committed billions to build a replacement bridge.

But, New York has more than 2,000 structurally deficient bridges, around 12.5%.

9.6% of New Jersey and Connecticut's bridges have extensive cracks and corrosion.

While the need to rebuild is urgent, LePatner says the latest collapse, just like the one in Minneapolis that killed 13 people, will soon be forgotten.

"Politicians will let this subject drop in a matter of weeks and wait for the next situation to occur," LePatner said.

Unlike many states, New York City has invested in its bridges.

The Brooklyn Bridge, The Whitestone, the Verrazano and others have been refurbished.

"Allocating over $5 billion making New York City's bridges among the safest," LePatner said.

The Federal Highway Administration says to fix the nation's structurally deficient bridges would require an investment of $20 billion annually from now until 2028.


If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at

Follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Follow Sarah Wallace on Twitter at and on Facebook at