Could it happen in Oregon? Wash. bridge collapse raises questions

SALEM, Ore. (AP) Could it happen here?

Oregon has 65 steel truss bridges on state highways, county roads and city streets similar to the Skagit River bridge that collapsed Thursday night on Interstate 5 in Washington.

Three are on interstate highways including the two spans that constitute the Interstate Bridge spanning the Columbia River linking Portland with Vancouver, Wash. The northbound span dates to 1917, southbound to 1958. They are maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation, and both are rated by federal standards as "functionally obsolete."

The Oregon Legislature set aside $450 million earlier this year as the state's share of a $3.5 billion replacement, but Washington lawmakers have not yet agreed to a similar amount. The rest will come from federal grants and driver tolls, but federal officials have said the states must make a commitment by this fall.

The third steel-truss span also is across the Columbia on Interstate 82 at Umatilla, and is maintained by Washington.

ODOT spokesman Patrick Cooney said although several Oregon bridges have been hit by trucks, none has collapsed. But he said it's hard to pin down the prospects until engineers investigate why the Skagit River bridge collapsed.

"It's tough to say, but it could happen if you hit something hard enough in the right spot," he said. "But we've never had one hit that collapsed like the Skagit River bridge."

After a truck damaged the overhead steel braces on the Yeon Bridge near Harrisburg in 2001, Cooney said, the bridge was equipped with an electronic warning system costing $65,000. The alternative was a replacement, estimated at $17 million, for the 1926 bridge across the Willamette.

The bridge was damaged again in a crash three years ago, but the truck was not high enough to trigger the warning system.

"This was an unfortunate event in Washington that will trigger inquiries," said Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, House co-chairman of the legislative budget subcommittee on transportation.

"It certainly will be on top of our agenda to have questions about where we are, what we are doing, and how much work has been completed. While most projects of what we have going on the interstates have been completed, I think we have questions about the smaller state highway bridges."

Information from: Statesman Journal