A Waumandee bridge collapse has closed a highway and caused minor injuries to at least one driver. The Wisconsin bridge collapse happened shortly after a report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) suggested that more than 55,000 bridges in the United States are considered structurally deficient. Although there were only minor injuries in the Waumandee bridge collapse, serious bridge failures can result in catastrophic injuries and multiple casualties.
One Injured in Waumandee Bridge Collapse
The bridge in Waumandee, on Country Road U near Country Road EE in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, collapsed around 7:00 p.m. on Monday, February 20. Police initially responded to a report of a partial bridge collapse that caused a vehicle to rollover. When they attended the scene, emergency crews found one vehicle upside down.
Driver Carlos Txompaxtle had been traveling south on Highway U when he came to the collapsed bridge. His vehicle rolled over, although he declined medical treatment. A different driver, Karen Pronschinske, had been traveling north in her vehicle and was unable to stop in time when she encountered the Waumandee bridge collapse. Her vehicle drove over the edge, causing minor injuries.
The cause of the Waumandee bridge collapse is under investigation. Buffalo County Highway Commissioner Bob Platteter suggested that flooding in the summer of 2016 could have been a factor in the bridge failure. The bridge is around 100 years old.
“The south abutment failed,” Platteter said. “We don’t know what made it fail yet, we suspect it has something to do with the flood from last late summer that there was probably an undermining going on that we didn’t know about.”
Temporary Bridge Installed to Replace Collapsed Bridge
A temporary two-lane bypass was approved to replace the downed bridge until a permanent replacement can be built, likely by the summer of 2017.
Big Sur Bridge Under Demolition Following Partial Collapse
Meanwhile, in California, work has begun on the demolition of a Big Sur bridge that was closed down February 15 after heavy rains caused the bridge to begin collapsing. The bridge, which is part of Highway 1, was an important route for approximately three million tourists who visit that area annually.
The collapsed Pfeiffer Canyon bridge also split Big Sur in half, meaning helicopters have to be used to bring in supplies to people who live in the town, which is already isolated from much of California.
“Before, with other natural disasters, we were isolated as all one, together,” said John Knight, fire captain with the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade. “The problem with this is that it’s divided the community right in half.”
On the south side of the bridge are the post office, fire station and various inns. On the north side are the schools, medical care providers, hardware stores, and most residences. The only thing connecting the two sides of the bridge is a narrow footpath that will be open three times a day for 15 minutes. The route is not expected to reopen until sometime in 2018.
Thousands of U.S. Bridges Considered Structurally Deficient
A report issued mid-February 2017 by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) suggested that more than 55,000 bridges in the U.S. are considered structurally deficient. While structural deficiency does not mean the bridges are under threat of immediate collapse, it does mean that the bridge must be monitored and maintained. It also means that the bridges have had some form of restriction—either to light traffic or no traffic—or require rehabilitation. Failure to properly rehabilitate or maintain structurally deficient bridges can eventually result in a bridge collapse.
To determine structural deficiency, the ARTBA examines a variety of elements on the bridge—such as the deck and the superstructure—and gives them a scale of zero to nine, with nine being excellent. A structurally deficient bridge will have one or more of those elements rated four or below, indicating poor condition.
The association notes that bridges deemed structurally deficient are crossed approximately 185 million times a day. California is home to the 14 most-traveled structurally deficient bridges.
Bridges may also be considered functionally obsolete. This means the bridge was built to standards that are not currently used. Such bridges, for example, may not have lanes that are wide enough for current traffic levels, or adequate vertical clearances. Being functionally obsolete does not mean the bridge is inherently unsafe, but it does mean that the bridge was not designed to handle current traffic volumes and patterns.
Catastrophic Bridge Collapses
Although they are not a common occurrence, bridge collapses can have catastrophic consequences for the people caught on them. A 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis killed 13 people and injured 145 more. In that case, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the bridge probably collapsed due to a design flaw.
Whether you are driving on a bridge, walking across it, or completing work on it, if you are harmed in a full or partial bridge collapse, you may be eligible for compensation for your injuries. The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is dedicated to fighting for the rights of people injured by bridge failures. Contact us for a no-obligation consultation.