Hood Canal Bridge snafu a ‘humbling reminder’ for WSDOT

Jul 11, 2016, 1:38 PM | Updated: 2:10 pm
Hood Canal Bridge...
The Hood Canal Bridge was closed for seven hours in both directions to vehicle and marine traffic on Sunday. (WSDOT)

The Washington State Department of Transportation has investigated and discovered what caused a seven-hour delay Sunday on the Hood Canal Bridge following a bridge opening malfunction.

The finding: Human error.

Related: Hood Canal Bridge closes for odd malfunction

The bridge is a critical link between the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas via State Route 104. As it crosses the Hood Canal, it also experiences considerable marine traffic, including military vessels, which is why it frequently opens and halts vehicle traffic.

“This time of year it opens quite frequently for recreational vessels,” Troy Kelly with WSDOT. “In the fall and winter we have a lot of openings for department of defense traffic as well as fishing fleets.”

As the bridge opened at 8 a.m. Sunday, it experienced an uneven lift of the bridge span. Crews had to manually close the bridge.

“There’s three lift spans — the span closest to the west, only three of its four cylinders lifted the structure, and it twisted the deck and pinched it, essentially,” Kelly said.

One of the four hydraulic lift cylinders used to raise and lower the bridge didn’t have enough fluid, causing the uneven lift. The cylinder didn’t have enough fluid because WSDOT personnel accidentally left a valve closed as part of routine maintenance and practice on the bridge’s equipment.

“This measure was performed on Thursday afternoon,” Kelly said. “They were exercising the valves. In the event they have to do this manually in the future, they can ensure they can isolate the hydraulics, etc. in case of an emergency.”

“We had a team exercising those valves, and one valve did not get reopened all the way which restricted the hydraulic fluid and the ability for that cylinder to lift the structure … it just wasn’t returned to its fully opened position,” he said.

The bridge, therefore, opened unevenly, causing minor damage to bolts on the structure. WSDOT is updating maintenance policies to account for the human error.

“We are so sorry for the inconvenience and travel disruptions this incident caused to mariners and motorists alike,” said Troy Cowan, WSDOT Olympic Region Assistant Regional Administrator of Maintenance and Operations. “Our crews take great pride in their maintenance of the Hood Canal Bridge. This mistake is a humbling reminder of how important their work is and how important it is for them to be focused and diligent at all time.”

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Hood Canal Bridge snafu a ‘humbling reminder’ for WSDOT