WA-List » Broken Bridges

Broken Bridges

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Buildings & Other Structures

UPDATE: A new bridge enters this list. On May 23, 2013, a passing truck struck a girder on the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River (between mileposts 227 and 229) near Mount Vernon, causing one of the spans to buckle and collapse into the river.  Several vehicles plunged in with it.  Some drivers were injured but there were no fatalities. The steel truss bridge was built in 1955.  It had passed two inspections in 2012, and was not considered structurally deficient. (See: The complete 5-page list of “structurally deficient bridges” in the state of Washington.)

With all the water in Washington you would expect quite a few bridges crossing the rivers, lakes, and passages.  We have bridges a-plenty.  But we’ve also had our share of catastrophic bridge failures.  The most famous collapse, of course, was the 1940 collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge — pictured here — just four months after it opened.

At the time, it was the third longest suspension bridge in the world.  During its brief existence, the bridge would sway on windy days, earning it the nickname “Galloping Gertie.”  Then one afternoon — seventy-one years ago today — the steady November gales of The Narrows rocked it to the breaking point, stripping the bridge deck from its suspension cables and dropping Gertie into the water below.  The only fatality in the wreckage was Tubby, a dog too frightened to get out of a car on the violently roiling roadway.  The plunge was immortalized on film and used as a case study in wind dynamics and engineering for many years thereafter.   [One of many video clips of the bridge’s turbulent final moments.]  Much of Galloping Gertie stills lie in its watery grave at 30 fathoms between Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

On the anniversary of Tacoma’s first big bridge getting wet, we listed what I consider to be the three most significant Washington state bridge collapses.  All three spans have rebuilt bridges today.


Failure Date Bridge and Location Cause of the Collapse
Nov 7
Tacoma Narrows Bridge
Tacoma Narrows (Pierce County)
The long central span was known to sway in the wind so regularly that the bridge became known affectionately as “Galloping Gertie.”  Drivers often faced somewhat of a roller coaster ride during the four months it was open to traffic.  A steady November windstorm, however, made it rock violently.  After many oscillations, the bridge deck finally broke apart and fell into the water below.
Feb 13
Hood Canal Bridge
Hood Canal (Jefferson & Kitsap Counties)
A severe storm with wind gusts in excess of 120 mph buffeted the floating bridge all morning.  By 7 a.m., the western half of the span sunk beneath the waves.
Nov 25
Lacey V. Murrow Bridge
Lake Washington (King County)
The floating bridge was undergoing a facelift in the fall of 1990, when workers removed the water-tight doors to the bridge’s pontoons.  Then a long, rainy weekend and stormy lake waves filled the pontoons with water.  Despite last-minute pumping, the weight was too great.  One pontoon sunk and dragged the rest of the cabled-together bridge down with it.

PHOTO of the collapsing Tacoma Narrows Bridge is in the public domain.
VIDEO of the original collapse on YouTube. WA-List has no connection with the individual who posted it.


One Response to “Broken Bridges”

  1. Joan Says:

    When the Hood Canal bridge sunk we reverted to the old reliable ferry to get to the other side and back.
    All 3 bridges are vital for today’s commuters and travelers.