Median Barriers & Today’s Deadly Aurora Bridge Crash

SDOT had plans to install median barrier. That likely would have saved lives and reduced the impact of today's incident.

SDOT had plans to install median barrier years ago. That likely would have saved lives and reduced the impact of today’s incident.

A horrific collision involving a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle ground traffic to a halt on the Aurora Bridge earlier today. From reports and eyewitness accounts, apparently the Duck crossed into oncoming traffic.

In a similar case that our firm handled, we deposed SDOT employees. From those depositions, we learned that the State and City has talked about installing a barrier for many years. Stritmatter Kessler Whelan deposed WSDOT and SDOT employees several years ago for a case where a Metro bus driver was shot, and the bus traveled across oncoming lanes on the Aurora Bridge, crashed through the railing and plunged to the ground. At that time, we reviewed plans for adding a pedestrian walkway at a level just below the bridge, enabling the City to remove the sidewalk, and move the lanes over to accommodate the median barrier. Obviously, that was never done. If a barrier had been in place, it would have deflected the impact of the Duck and the deadly crash with the oncoming bus would have never happened.

In 1993, 1994 and again in 1997, in preparation of a resurfacing project, WSDOT considered a median barrier for the bridge. The issue fell through the cracks. The pressing issue at that time was that the structural steel of the bridge was beginning to show signs of deterioration. Thus, repairs needed to be made w/in a 2 year period. Limited funding for anything beyond the basic repairs was a problem for WSDOT.  As a result, although everyone recognized the need for a barrier, the project was put off for another day. In fact, it would have cost only an additional $800K – $1.2 M to provide the additional structural support needed for the median barrier. Additionally, the annual economic cost in terms of societal losses exceeds $2 M on that bridge. Given that WSDOT & SDOT have to operate with limited funds, a cost-benefit analysis was warranted for this type of scenario.  I certainly don’t mean to second-guess transportation/traffic engineers. However, our firm’s experience with roadway design cases (and in particular w/our case involving the Aurora Bridge) tells us that a barrier would have deflected the Duck vehicle and prevented the most recent tragedy.

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