Baumgartner proposes common-sense bill to avert future bridge collapses

In response to the May 23 collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge across the Skagit River, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, has introduced legislation intended to prevent similar instances in the future. Senate Bill 5944, proposed today, would forbid the state Department of Transportation from issuing an overheight or overwidth special permit for vehicles moving a load that exceeds the actual measured minimum clearance height or width of a bridge along a vehicle’s proposed route.

As more details have emerged, it appears DOT had issued a special permit to a vehicle that exceeded the bridge’s limitations, which ultimately led to the bridge’s collapse a week ago. While the event has spawned calls for more transportation funding from some state lawmakers, Baumgartner says proper oversight is needed rather than more money.

“This bridge collapse had nothing to do with gas taxes. It’s just common sense that DOT shouldn’t be issuing permits for trucks that are bigger than the bridges that they cross,” Baumgartner said. “We need to get this fixed now.”

Additionally, Baumgartner’s bill would require proper signage for all structures that provide less than 16 feet of clearance above public highways. Bridges and overpasses in that category would need to have clearly posted signs indicating the maximum clearance height.

“The bridge in Skagit County had been struck multiple times previously and yet DOT failed to properly post warning signs,” Baumgartner said. “Whether it is wasting $100 million on floating bridge pontoons that don’t float or doing nothing after several trucks repeatedly hit the same bridge, it’s clear that DOT has a bridge management problem and the agency obviously needs more oversight.”

If passed into law, SB 5944 would take effect immediately.