Friday, May 31, 2013

About that Bridge

So, last week, you may have heard, part of a bridge fell down north of here. Bridges fall down all the time here in these United States, but this one held some import, since it was on the main and only big highway along the West Coast leading to Canada. Here's some fallout:

- The great news is that no one died. The guy in the truck that clipped the bridge pulled over immediately. Two cars went in, and three people were rescued, one briefly hospitalized. Part of the reason for the lack of fatalities is that the Skagit river is very shallow at this point  (though bitter cold, coming directly off the snowpack).

The bridge (lower left) in ancient, more intact times.
- The bridge worked the way it was supposed to. I know that sounds weird, looking at the fact that its southernmost chunk of it is resting comfortably on the river bed. But the idea was that when it failed, it was supposed to fail in that fashion, Further study may reveal additional problems, but the idea is that one span falls down and leave the others intact. The big danger when this went up was not so much oversized trucks, but earthquakes in the soft earth of the floodplain.

- The bridge was completed in 1955, which makes it only slightly older than I am. Some days, it feels like the bridge is in better shape, but I haven't been hit by as many trucks.

- One thing that I've noticed here, and earlier in the Boston bombing attack, is that we, as a people, are good with having cameras running all the time. About ten years ago a friend and I went to lunch and got into the subject of surveillance society, and I pointed out that we had been on camera about five times since we had left my office. That same route would probably be twice that now. In the wake of any event, people want the primary evidence that a running camera provides.

- Probably because no one was seriously injured, The Washington State Department of Traffic shows a bit of the Pacific Northwest sense of humor in their Facebook page:
As you may have noticed the detour route near the Skagit River keeps changing as we try to make sure people can get past this bridge on roads that weren't meant for as much traffic as we are seeing now. Be sure to check our website before you head out. Expect to add at least an hour to your trip time if you are going that way, or even better plan to stop by one of the local businesses and have lunch on your way through. Don't forget that Amtrak Cascades is also a fantastic option to get through the area and around the detour.

There might be another possibility of a detour route, we are still working to adjust the ramp to just the right height (and just try to get that song out of your head). 

There might be another possibility of a detour route, we are still working to adjust the ramp to just the right height (and just try to get that song out of your head). 
Yes. WSDOT did post this.
 Credit to Mark Nesteroff, twitter user @proudestmonkey3 for the source of this photo.

- Unfortunately, despite WSDOT's recommendation, people are not stopping at the local businesses. It will impact the rest of the state as well. I-5 North is one of three major highway routes into Seattle - the others being I-5 South to Portland and I-90 over the Cascades (which gets closed when we have heavy snowfall). I-5 South crosses the Columbia at the Columbia River Interstate Bridge, which if anything is in worse shape than the Skagit bridget. Now we have rail and a deep port, but it would be easy to seal off Seattle from car traffic fairly easily (as opposed to, say, Gotham City in Dark Knight Rises).

Mean meme. Accurate, but mean.
- Despite the vulnerability to our economy, our austerity-prone conservatives are quickly out in force, arguing that, just because our bridges are falling down, that's no reason to actually spend money to FIX them (unless, apparently, that money comes out of the pockets of mass transit or other things they don't like). Tim Eyman, known to locals for his industrious initiatives intent on keeping government from actually doing anything, sees it as one more way to support his own hobby horse:
"Is the Democrats' first priority to investigate to learn what actually happened so they can initiate a fact-based, measured response? Of course not. Instead, they're ghoulishly, crassly, exploitatively, and predictably demanding the Legislature unilaterally raise taxes $8.4 billion -- without a vote of the people"
- Of course, a functioning government can do both, and it seems that WSDOT is well on its way with its investigation. Not that it will stop Mr. Eyman from thumbing through his thesaurus to find for epithets to hurl at people who actually want to fix the problem.

- And finally, and most importantly - Skagit rhymes with Badge-it, not Bag-it. 

More later,