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Speeches

Board Meeting Washington State I-5 Bridge Collapse, May 23, 2013, Mt. Vernon, WA, Acting Chairman's Opening Statement
Christopher A. Hart
Mt. Vernon, WA
7/15/2014

Good morning. Welcome to the Board room of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Acting Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board Members: Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener. I would like to recognize the excellent work of former NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman and our investigative team on this accident. And finally, my thanks to local law enforcement officers, who extended exemplary assistance and cooperation.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider for the first time the report on the Interstate 5 (or I-5) bridge collapse over the Skagit River near Mount Vernon, Washington, on May 23, 2013.
In this accident a south-bound truck-tractor, hauling an oversize load, struck the bridge and compromised its structure. A span of the bridge collapsed, falling 38 feet into the Skagit River.
Although both the oversize combination vehicle and its pilot escort vehicle made it across the bridge, two other vehicles plunged into the river below. Fortunately, the three occupants of those vehicles suffered only minor injuries.
This investigation turned the Safety Board’s attention to the systems in place for the safe transportation of oversize loads on our highways.
Much of our economy depends on the safe movement of today’s larger loads across roads and structures built decades ago or more. Statutory vehicle heights have increased. If a load exceeds that height, a state may grant an oversize load permit.
The safe movement of these loads demands special precautions. And indeed, there were precautions in place to help ensure that accidents such as this one did not happen.
The trucking company had a process intended to establish a safe route for the oversize load to travel. Washington State had a permitting process intended to ensure that oversize loads travel along safe routes, and that drivers knew the hazards of the routes they chose.
The state also required a pilot-escort vehicle to lead the way, an arrangement intended to detect hazards and relay them to the driver of the oversize vehicle.
Finally, Washington State, like all states, had requirements for vertical clearance signage, intended to prevent such strikes.
But Washington State’s signage requirement did not apply to this bridge. Other precautions failed as well. What’s more, the precautions had failed many times before, both on this bridge and on others, albeit with less serious consequences. Today, we’ll learn how and why the precautions failed, and we’ll discuss what changes are needed for future precautions to succeed.
This bridge has been repaired, and it was upgraded to an increased vertical clearance above all lanes and shoulders.
But many other bridges remain at risk for high load strikes. It is our hope that this investigation will shed light on ways to protect lives, prevent injuries, and avoid property damage and road closures in the future.
Now Managing Director Mayer will attend to some housekeeping and introduce the staff.
Managing Director Mayer.