A bridge collapsed along the Skagit River in Washington State Thursday evening, plunging two cars into the water below and prompting the emergency rescues of three people from the water. The incident could very well propel the topic of bridge safety into the national spotlight.
Locally, NBC 7 covered bridge safety earlier this month when NBC 7 Investigates got an exclusive look at how a special team of Caltrans divers and experts inspect San Diego's iconic Coronado Bay Bridge for safety. Video of that inspection can be seen here.
The safety inspection is done on the Coronado Bay Bridge every few years. Experts have spent this past month examining the bridge, and those latest findings will be available in about two months.
Inspection experts told NBC 7 Investigates that a 2007 inspection of the Coronado Bay Bridge showed that the piers were in good condition, with "no major defects."
Back in March, the non-profit advocacy group Transportation for America deemed the Coronado Bridge “structurally deficient,” saying it was one of thousands of bridges across the nation in need of significant maintenance. That group's ranking of the Coronado Bay Bridge can be seen here.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Transportation keeps a list of all “fracture critical state highway system bridges” that are regularly tested for any potential safety concerns.
In San Diego, that list includes the Coronado Bay Bridge, the Sweetwater River bridge, the Mission Bay Drive bridge and Ballena Creek bridge. Click here for the DOT's full list of California fracture critical bridges.
On Friday, Caltrans officials told NBC 7 that it’s very unlikely that a bridge-related accident like the one in Washington could happen in San Diego because local bridges are designed and built differently.
Still, Caltrans said there are a number of challenges to keeping bridges safe.
For example, a bridge span on North Torrey Pines Road at Carmel Valley Road is being reinforced to meet earthquake safety standards. Repairs will make the pillars stronger, while supports under the roadway get new steel reinforcements. The $15 million project will be finished late this year.
Although Caltrans inspects all state bridges in San Diego for cracks and other potential problems, one engineering expert says many other local roadways and bridges are getting old and must soon be repaired or replaced.
"I think we have identified the problem. What we don't have exactly is enough resources to get it all done.” Jim Frost of the American Society of Civil Engineers told NBC 7.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives San Diego County a grade of “C+” for bridge safety. The group says 19 percent of local bridges need major repairs or replacement.
The group also says that in 10 years, the majority of San Diego bridges will be outdated.