Short bridges vs. tall trucks: how quickly DOT forgets
The Wrap by Ron Judd
Seattle Times staff columnist
Think of 2013 as a year of Big Science Lessons learned. Among them: Regular Americans measure in feet and inches. Canadian truck drivers measure in meters and centimeters (and out-of-court settlements). And the Washington state Department of Transportation measures in hectares of inertia.
Such was the lesson of the Great I-5 Skagit Bridge collapse, in which an Albertan truck driver hauling an oversized load — the permit for which, like thousands of others on our highways every year (you cannot make this up) was self-dispensed by someone punching buttons on a website — creamed a bridge support structure in May, sending a bridge section plummeting into the Skagit River.
Even though the accident sent some motorists splashing into the drink, then tied up traffic for months during bridge repair, the mess in itself probably wouldn’t merit bestowing of the The Wrap’s mildly anticipated, somewhat-annual Clayton Bennett Memorial “Feats of Clay” Award for Distinguished Absence of Valor. But the mess, coupled with the lack of action before the accident (ignoring three decades of evidence of bridge strikes by other trucks) and again after, clearly does.
Post splashdown, logic dictated the DOT would swiftly and fully overhaul its oversized-permit system, better mark bridge heights and take other reasonable steps to ensure the calamity was a one-time event.
Those of you still holding your breath? Go ahead and do the eight-month exhale. It appears to be back to perilous business as usual on state highways, where another 50-some highway bridges found to be similarly height- and maintenance-challenged are traveled every day by truckers who secure permits through a system as reliable as a 1973 Chevy Vega.
The DOT — which, granted, did at least get repairs made in timely order — is nonetheless bestowed with this column’s highest mark of non-distinction: the trophy named in dishonor of Bennett, the jar-headed weasel who spirited the SuperSonics away back in ’08 — laughing and lying all the way.
It was not a slam-dunk. WSDOT narrowly edged out a strong field of competitors that included itself (see below) for an award that in past years has been bestowed upon Bennett himself, an ingloriously exiting Ken Griffey Jr., the State Transportation Commission (note the trend!), and federal budget diva U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Pork.
The pre-stamped envelopes please:
The Thurston Howell III Low-Occupancy Aquatic Vehicle Award: To the U.S. Coast Guard, which, sticking to the letter of a law that keeps Lake Washington open for maritime navigation at nearly any cost, requires WSDOT to open the 520 Microsoft Floating Bridge to big-ass boat traffic even during heavy traffic times, creating snarls throughout the region.
The Bike Lane to Oblivion Award: To former Mayor Pro-Tem Mike McGinn, D-Hissy Fit, whose stunning sense of political cluelessness remains so profound that he refused, on his way out the door, to rule out an eventual re-entry into local politics.
The One-Down, One-To-Go Award: To Pleistocene-era front-office honcho Chuck Armstrong, who, having completed his task of making the Seattle Mariners the most laughable franchise in professional sports, is finally stepping down to spend more time with Chone Figgins’ family.
The “What Time Does It Get Dark in November Again?” Award: To the brain trust of the University of Washington Athletic Department, which spent $250 million on a “New Husky Stadium” to preserve the nation’s grandest Saturday-afternoon fall football stadium views — for games that now are almost always played at night to milk the TV cash cow.
The Double Tall, Half-Caff, Fresh Cash Award: To grotesquely overpaid U-Dub assistant football coach (pardon the redundancy) Tosh Lupoi, accused by a local high-school coach of slipping cash payments to a local recruit in a paper coffee cup. (This being Seattle, the alleged delivery system is a cliché sufficient to warrant for-cause dismissal.)
The Pete Carroll Memorial See-No-Evil Award: To outgoing UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who — with all those private luxury autos to drive, waterfront grounds to maintain, and country club appearances to make — can’t be expected to know what all his assistants are doing at any given moment.
The J.D. Power Initial Futility Award: To President Obama, D-Sgt. Schultz, who responded to the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act — received slightly less warmly by the American people than the Pontiac Aztek — by doing everything in his power to ensure no one would be held accountable, including himself.
The David Stern Memorial “Trust Me, I Only Lie to Deserving People”Award: To hedge funder and long-ago Seattleite Chris Hansen, who insists his duplicity in making an oafish, secret cash donation to an anti-arena group in Sacramento shouldn’t preclude Seattle taxpayers from trusting him with a hefty corporate welfare gift to establish a new Sodo shrine to the icon of malfeasance and monotony known as the National Basketball Association.
The Only-In-Seattle Genius-In-Politics Award: To Sonics-arena cheerleaders who, hoping to teach a lesson to city council arena “no” vote Richard Conlin, busted their butts to further advance their pet corporate-welfare project — by helping replace him with an avowed socialist, Kshama Sawant.
The One-Toke-Over-the-Line Award: To the Seahawks’ defense, trendsetters in the strategic use of performance-inhibiting drugs.
The Parting-Is-Such-Sweet-Sorrow Yellow Bracelet Award: To the handful of particularly vituperative, cocksure supporters of dope fiend Lance Armstrong, who, after many years of assailing Mr. Wrap’s comments about their hero’s blatantly obvious side gig as a drug sponge, all suddenly went missing.
The Wiener-Stuck-In-the-Warp-Drive Award: To the DOT’s tunnel-boring machine, Bertha, who, obviously mistaking herself for just about any other Puget Sound dweller, took most of December off to spend some time in Mexico.
The Let-Them-Eat-Cake Excellence In Corporate Extortion Award: To the greedy pirates running Boeing, formerly of Seattle, whose tone-deaf list of demands from public entities seeking the gift of the company’s presence for a new 777X assembly line would have sent even an 18th century French aristocrat reaching for the acid-reflux meds.
The Education, Schmeducation Tail-Wagging-Dog Award: To Washington State University, which chose to cancel classes one Thursday afternoon so campus parking lots could accommodate the hordes of fans (who later stayed home in droves) for an ESPN-dictated Thursday football game.
The White-Dickie Permanent Deployment Act: To the lunatics in the Italian legal system who clearly really do have nothing better to do than prosecute Seattle’s Amanda Knox for a crime that any child of 4 can see she did not commit.
And finally, The SeaWorld Memorial Freedom-Through-Caging Award: To the Woodland Park Zoo, which refuses to accept the increasingly obvious truism that large, intelligent mammals like elephants don’t belong in closed-quarters captivity. Period.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.
Ron Judd’s column appears each Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8280.
About The Wrap / Ron Judd
"The Wrap" appears on Sundays, highlighting the absurd and providing the punch line to the week's news headlines.