Unfortunate history of bridge disasters in Washington

May 24, 2013, 9:07 AM | Updated: 10:39 am

Washington has seen several major bridge collapses over the years, from the Tacoma Narrows to the Hood Canal.

The worst of them all, in terms of loss of life, happened in 1923 when the Allen Street Bridge, in Kelso, collapsed into the Cowlitz River. The wooden bridge had been weakened by flooding and as people were heading home on January 3, a suspension cable broke during a traffic jam, toppling support towers and sending the entire structure into the water. Bad weather complicated rescue efforts and historylink.org calls it the worst bridge disaster in Washington history, taking at least 35 lives.

The most famous Washington bridge mishap was probably the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse. It was November 1940 and powerful winds blew through the Narrows. The newly built bridge, then the world’s third longest suspension bridge, began to twist violently, eventually earning the nickname “Galloping Gertie.” After an hour, it broke apart and plunged into the water. A new bridge was built ten years later, delayed in part because of World War II.

In 1947, a 40-ton truck drove across a five ton bridge over the Hoko River, in Clallam County, with predictable results. The driver escaped injury but the 16-year-old bridge, near Sekiu on the Olympic Peninsula, was destroyed.

In February 1979, the western section of the 1.1 mile-long Hood Canal Bridge sank during a powerful wind storm. Sustained winds hit 80 miles per hour. The concrete pontoon bridge, similar to the SR 520 floating bridge, linked Kitsap County and the Olympic Peninsula. A new Hood Canal Bridge opened to traffic in 1982.

In November 1990, part of the 50-year old Mercer Island floating bridge sank into Lake Washington, again during a storm, while undergoing refurbishing.

Many of these bridge disasters have one thing in common. They were victims of winter storms.

According to historylink.org, the state department of transportation recorded a total of 70 bridge failures between 1923 and 1998.

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Unfortunate history of bridge disasters in Washington