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Lawmaker hopes to ensure WA bridges aren't vulnerable to Baltimore bridge collapse

by By Carleen Johnson/The Center Square
| May 4, 2024 2:03 PM

(The Center Square) — More than five weeks after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, the remains of a fifth construction worker were recovered on Wednesday. 

The victim was identified as Miguel Angel Luna Gonzalez, 49, of Glen Burnie, Md., state officials said in a news release. Gonzalez was one of six workers who went missing in the collapse. One additional worker remains missing. 

It was just before sunrise March 26 when the cargo ship Dali lost power and hit the bridge, causing it to collapse into the Patapsco River.

The devastating event has inspired new legislation from a lawmaker who hopes to avoid something similar happening in Washington state.

“What happened in Baltimore with the bridge collapse and most importantly the loss of life, it creates an issue for us to think about our bridges and with these massive ships, what could that mean," said state Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. “Baltimore made it clear it's time to look at our bridges in Washington.”

Wilson, in a news release, said he plans to introduce a bill during the 2025 legislative session to study the vulnerability of bridges on Washington waterways to impacts from commercial vessels. Pier protection would be a major focus, including fenders and artificial reefs known as “dolphins” that ground ships before they can strike.

Wilson told The Center Square he's most concerned about the Lewis and Clark Bridge in Longview. 

“On the Columbia River, known as a federal highway for imports and exports, the river is a priority for grain and goods and services," he said. "That makes it critical that it remains open.”

The bridge's age is a concern. 

“Longview has a unique story," Wilson said. "It’s a 95-year-old bridge, and it’s well past operating over its original design capacity."

The Washington State Department of Transportation got rid of impact barriers around the footings of the bridge, according to the senator.

"In the 1990s, those barriers were removed," Wilson explained. "I’m not really sure why they did that. Maybe it was high cost of maintenance or something, but my focus now is if we could remove those protections, was there something we could have done in place of it?" 

Wilson says he’s continuing to work with WSDOT to get a better understanding as to why that decision was made.

“It’s ironic that at one time, somebody thought the barriers were important enough to be installed because the bridge was not built originally with those fenders in place in 1930; they were added later," he said. 

What's at stake, Wilson said, is a sense of being able to use these bridges and feel safe doing so.

“The price that was paid in Baltimore is much too heavy with the loss of life," he said.

He concluded by noting, “Bridges can’t get out of the way; they can’t move no matter what, so we’d better make sure these bridges are as safe as possible.”