NTSB looking at rating given collapsed bridge

Wednesday, June 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WEBBER FALLS, Okla. (AP) _ The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into a rating given last year to the Interstate 40 bridge in its probe of the collapse that killed 14 people, an investigator said Tuesday.

State inspectors gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 67 in its most recent inspection report of June 2001.

The ratings are based on factors such as structural condition _ including support structures _ traffic the bridge carries and how essential it is to the transportation system, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

A bridge rated between 51 percent and 80 percent is likely in need of rehabilitation. One with a rating of 50 percent or less is considered in need of replacement.

``We're going to look at that,'' agency spokesman Keith Holloway said. ``We'll look at the sufficiency of that bridge, as well as other things, to try to figure out whether that played a part in the way it collapsed.''

A towboat owned by Magnolia Marine Transport Co. was pushing two barges at 6 to 7 mph when it veered about 300 feet off course and slammed into a bridge support, collapsing a 580-foot section into the Arkansas River on May 26.

Capt. Joe Dedmon, 60, was at the wheel and later told investigators he blacked out as he approached the I-40 bridge near Webbers Falls in eastern Oklahoma. Fourteen bodies and 10 vehicles were recovered last week.

Terri Angier, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said a 67 rating is about average for the state.

``There's a lot of engineers who have told us, in terms of the size of this bridge and the number of cars that drive over it, the one that was hit was probably one of our best bridges in the state,'' Angier said.

Bridge inspections also show that bridges on alternate routes are likely in need of replacement, too.

The U.S. Highway 59 bridge is rated at 36, but Angier said reconstruction of the structure has been going on for about a year and is about half finished.

Inspectors have determined the U.S. 59 bridge is safe for the additional traffic, Angier said.

The U.S. 64 bridge, also called the State Highway 100 bridge, is another detour bridge. Its rating is 82 percent.

National bridge data shows that about a third of Oklahoma's 23,000 bridges have a rating of lower than 50, including 47 bridges that carry interstate highways and 193 carry other primary arterial highways.

Holloway said investigators will look at bridge inspection reports.

``That way well be able to determine what was the sufficiency of the bridge ... the design and whether aging had something to do with it _ it was built in 1967,'' Holloway said. ``It may or may not play a part, but its something were going to look at.''

Holloway also said NTSB investigators have not yet received cardiac tests on Dedmon. The captain had a heart condition he didn't know about, according to Vicksburg, Miss.-based Magnolia Marine.

The agency ordered the evaluation to try to determine whether that might have been a factor in the crash.