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Officials say bridge collapse should prompt review

  • ASSOCIATED PRESSA crew from the National Transportation Safety Board inspects a section of the Skagit River Bridge, Saturday, May 25, 2013 in Mount Vernon, Wash. The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday the bridge collapse in Washington state is a wake-up call for the nation. (AP Photo/The Skagit Valley Herald, Frank Varga)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A crew from the National Transportation Safety Board inspects a section of the Skagit River Bridge, Saturday, May 25, 2013 in Mount Vernon, Wash. The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday the bridge collapse in Washington state is a wake-up call for the nation. (AP Photo/The Skagit Valley Herald, Frank Varga)
  • Rescue workers formed a human chain as they began to remove a woman who reached out from a smashed pickup truck that fell into the Skagit River after the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridgeThursday, in Mount Vernon, Wash. (AP Photo/Francisco Rodriguez)

    Rescue workers formed a human chain as they began to remove a woman who reached out from a smashed pickup truck that fell into the Skagit River after the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridgeThursday, in Mount Vernon, Wash. (AP Photo/Francisco Rodriguez)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSA man was seen sitting atop a car that fell into the Skagit River after the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge there minutes earlier Thursday, in Mount Vernon, Wash. (AP Photo/Francisco Rodriguez)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A man was seen sitting atop a car that fell into the Skagit River after the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge there minutes earlier Thursday, in Mount Vernon, Wash. (AP Photo/Francisco Rodriguez)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSWorkers walk past the collapsed portion of the Interstate 5 bridge at the Skagit River Friday, May 24, 2013, in Mount Vernon, Wash. A truck carrying an oversize load struck the four-lane bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River below Thursday evening. All three occupants suffered only minor injuries.  (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Workers walk past the collapsed portion of the Interstate 5 bridge at the Skagit River Friday, May 24, 2013, in Mount Vernon, Wash. A truck carrying an oversize load struck the four-lane bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River below Thursday evening. All three occupants suffered only minor injuries. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
  • A collapsed section of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River is seen in an aerial view Friday in Mt. Vernon, Wash. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Mike Siegel)

    A collapsed section of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River is seen in an aerial view Friday in Mt. Vernon, Wash. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Mike Siegel)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSA dented upper right corner and a scrape along the upper side are visible on the "oversize load" equipment casing being hauled a truck parked southbound on Interstate 5 south of the collapsed portion of the highway bridge at the Skagit River Friday, May 24, 2013, in Mount Vernon, Wash. The truck struck the four-lane bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada Thursday evening, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River. All three occupants suffered only minor injuries. At an overnight news conference, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste blamed the collapse on the tractor-trailer carrying a tall load that hit an upper part of the span. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A dented upper right corner and a scrape along the upper side are visible on the "oversize load" equipment casing being hauled a truck parked southbound on Interstate 5 south of the collapsed portion of the highway bridge at the Skagit River Friday, May 24, 2013, in Mount Vernon, Wash. The truck struck the four-lane bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada Thursday evening, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River. All three occupants suffered only minor injuries. At an overnight news conference, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste blamed the collapse on the tractor-trailer carrying a tall load that hit an upper part of the span. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE >> The collapse of an interstate highway bridge in northern Washington state should be a wake-up call that prompts an expansive safety review, according to National Transportation Safety Board officials.

Investigators are trying to determine why a bridge over Interstate 5 about 60 miles north of Seattle collapsed after a truck clipped a steel truss and what can be done to prevent similar accidents. Officials have scheduled updates throughout the day Sunday.

NTSB Chairwoman Debbie Hersman on Saturday examined the scene in the Skagit River where two vehicles into the water. Three people involved escaped with non-life threatening injuries.

An investigation by The Associated Press suggests similar accidents could happen elsewhere. Thousands of bridges around the U.S. are kept standing by engineering design, rather than sheer size or redundant protections. Such spans may be one freak accident or mistake away from collapse.

Bridge regulators call them "fracture critical" bridges, because if a single, vital component is compromised, they can crumple.

Hersman’s team will spend about a week inspecting the I-5 bridge, talking to the truck driver whose vehicle hit it and examining maintenance documents and accident reports.

Other large vehicles struck the Skagit River bridge before the collapse Thursday, she noted. Investigators are using a high tech 3-D video camera to review the scene and attempt to pinpoint where the bridge failure began. Officials say they are working to find out whether the collapse was a fluke or a sign of bigger problems.

Hersman does not expect the investigation to delay removal of debris from the river or work on temporary replacement or repair plans. State and federal officials will work together on the investigation, she said.

They’ll be watching for safety issues that could affect other bridges.

"The results can be very catastrophic," Hersman said. "We’re very fortunate in this situation."

Washington state officials said Saturday that it will take time to find both short- and long-term fixes for the I-5 bridge.

While the NTSB finishes its inspection, state workers will begin cleaning up the river. Next, a temporary solution will be put in place to return traffic to Washington state’s most important north-south roadway.

Motorists should not expect to drive on I-5 between Mount Vernon and Burlington for many weeks and possibly months, said Washington Transportation Department spokesman Bart Treece.

About 71,000 vehicles use that stretch of highway every day.

Officials were looking for a temporary, pre-fabricated bridge to replace the 160-foot section that failed, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday. That option could be in place in weeks. Otherwise, it could be months before a replacement can be built, the governor said.

Inslee said it will cost $15 million to repair the bridge. The federal government has promised $1 million in emergency dollars and more money could come later, according to Washington’s congressional delegation.

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