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Originally published May 28, 2013 at 8:24 PM | Page modified May 29, 2013 at 4:29 PM

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So much for that bridge wake-up call

Think the collapse of the bridge on Interstate 5 might nudge the Legislature into spending more money on fixing up our aging roads and bridges? Think again.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Sane Guy - I wouldn't worry about it until it fails, it hardly ever rains around here. ... MORE
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Last week I wondered if the collapse of an I-5 bridge might jar us to fix up our deteriorating old infrastructure. Or if we would crouch back into our played-out “no new taxes” political torpor.

The torpor it is.

Leading us there, predictably, was none other than Tim Eyman. He professed to be appalled that some Democrats in the Legislature were “ghoulishly, crassly, exploitatively” arguing that a bridge collapse on our busiest roadway supports the need for more money to do some backlogged bridge and roadwork.

Some readers sided with Eyman. A truck hit a truss so it was a freak occurrence, they said. The bridge didn’t fall due to old age.

“This was human error, not overspending, underspending or Tim Eyman,” a reader chided me.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Curtis King, of Yakima, echoed this view. He told The Seattle Times he sees no need for any action.

“I don’t think it has any relevance,” he said of the bridge collapse.

A Republican in the state House, Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, went further, telling the Washington State Wire political site that a push for raising the gas tax to boost infrastructure due to this calamity is “a joke.”

“You could strike a brand-new bridge with a semi truck and it will come down,” Condotta said. “I am just beside myself about how idiotic we have become.”

Yep, you read that right. In Republicanville, circa 2013, you’re an idiot if a pancaked bridge leads you to suspect some of our bridges might be a little shaky and in need of work.

Which makes the Seattle Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers a pack of gibbering dolts, I guess.

“This bridge was classified as functionally obsolete, which means that the bridge no longer meets the current standards that are used today,” the group said. “Our state has aging bridges that need to be maintained and modernized, and dwindling transportation funds to address these pressing needs.”

Look, the Skagit River bridge wasn’t taken out by a ship or a bomb. That would be a “freak occurrence.” It was hit by an oversized truck load, which is not all that rare — it happens about 20 times per year in this state, according to the state Department of Transportation.

“Bridges get hit all the time,” says Jeff Murphy, 68, a retired trucker from Sedro-Woolley who drove 3 million miles in his more-than-30-year career. “I saw this same bridge hit before, because it’s a low bridge. Ask any trucker — some of these bridges are hit constantly.

“If they’re saying it’s no big deal because a truck hit it, that’s foolish. I can guarantee you that will happen again.”

Right. Bridges need to be able to take truck punishment without collapsing, kind of like how we design skyscrapers not to fall over in high winds or earthquakes. If the bridges are old and weren’t designed that way in the first place, then they at least need bolstering. This is controversial?

Now I agree with Republicans that more of any gas-tax package should go to repairing what we have, instead of buying massive new road projects. So ... why don’t they propose that?

Instead, they are blocking any new taxes for transportation, without offering up any plan of their own, all the while pooh-poohing a catastrophic bridge collapse to the point of musing on the idiocy of those who want to try to stop it from happening again.

I have never bought the left-wing line that Republicans actually want government to fail. But they don’t seem to be trying all that hard to make it work.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday.

Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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