CEE researchers to study Washington bridge collapse

6/10/2013 5:45:00 AM

Yeh Center
Yeh Center

The bridge that collapsed May 23 along I-5 in Mount Vernon, Wash., sending two cars into the icy Skagit River below and injuring three people, had previously been declared in “fair” condition and “functionally obsolete” by transportation officials. When a truck’s oversized load struck the bridge, a 160-foot section of it gave way. The accident highlights the nation’s aging infrastructure and lack of significant improvements in the six years since the disastrous Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13, according to a team of CEE researchers who are studying the Washington bridge collapse.

Tim Stark
Tim Stark

Marcelo Garcia
Marcelo Garcia

Jim LaFave
Jim LaFave

Ray Benekohal
Ray Benekohal
Researchers will visit the site June 12 to investigate the condition of the bridge, bridge signage, Skagit River scour — or damage to the bridge from the river flow — and bridge piers. Funded by a Rapid Response Grant from CEE at Illinois, the multi-disciplinary team includes (pictured at left, top to bottom) Professor Timothy D. Stark, a member of the geotechnical engineering faculty; Professor Marcelo H. García, hydrology; Associate Professor James M. LaFave, structural engineering; and Professor Rahim Benekohal, transportation.

The team will examine such issues as what role, if any, the bridge’s condition played in its collapse; whether damage to the bridge piers from the river water contributed to its collapse; the appropriateness of its signage; and responsibility of transportation entities when bridges are known to have condition problems. The perishable information the team gathers on the site visit will facilitate further research with the goal of increasing public safety by developing recommendations about type and location of bridge signage, optimization of maintenance funds, bridge inspections and truck permits, and how to prioritize funding decisions for infrastructure maintenance.

The CEE Rapid Response Grant Program is intended to facilitate high-impact research and outreach that focuses on infrastructure improvement and risk reduction relevant to natural and man-made disasters. A fast response is essential after disasters, because recovery and cleanup efforts typically remove damage or conditions that are important for forensic engineering analysis.