‘Very confident’: This is how the safety of state bridges in Washington is determined

SPOKANE, Wash– A Pittsburgh bridge collapsed Friday morning, sending ten people to the hospital. Rescuers had to repel more than 100 feet to reach victims.

President Joe Biden was in the area at the time of the collapse to promote his one trillion-dollar infrastructure program meant to pay for much-needed repairs for bridges and roads across the U.S.

More than $605 million of that plan will come to Washington. However, bridges identified for upgrades are almost exclusively on the western side of the state.

“I’m comfortable about our bridge safety program,” said Mark Gaines, state bridge engineer for the Washington Department of Transportation. “We look at your bridges just as carefully as bridges on the west side. I’m very confident.”

WSDOT inspects bridges thoroughly every two years.  Inspectors will give bridges a rating of good, fair, and poor.

“The bridges that get down to the poor category, that’s not a safety issue, that is some identification that there are some needs on the bridge, some preservation and repair that needs to be done,” Gaines said.

The bridge on Rosamond Avenue is closed, though drivers have cast aside the road-closed sign and the cones and are still driving on it. Gaines explained the bridge isn’t closed because of structural reasons.

“The deck surface is in such poor condition,” he said. “At some point that becomes a safety issue for motorists and for motorcycles, because if there are large open areas of pavements, it could be hazardous for them to travel across there.”

Bridges are currently made to last 75 years, but the one on East Trent Avenue was in operation for 110 years before construction began to completely redo it in 2020.

“It really is case-by-case,” Gaines said. “It depends on the physics of the structure, how old it is, what kind of condition it is, what the condition challenges are.”

Safety is the number one priority regardless of whether the bridge is on a highway or the city. The City of Spokane inspects bridges multiple times a year. Right now, they’re in the process of redoing the Post Street bridge.

“First we weight-restricted that bridge so heavy trucks could no longer go on it,” said Marlene Feist, the director of public works for the city of Spokane. “After another bridge inspection we determined that we should close it to all vehicular traffic and so we did that before we got going on the actual construction project.”

Once the cause of the bridge collapsing in Pittsburgh is determined, WSDOT will use the findings to potentially add to their bridge safety program.

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