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Collapsed D.C. pedestrian bridge was in poor condition before hit by truck, didn’t meet height standards

The incident injured five people, snarled traffic and closed the highway for more than 12 hours

A pedestrian bridge collapsed over part of Route 295 in D.C., injuring five people who were in vehicles below it. (D.C. Fire)

A 65-year-old pedestrian bridge over D.C.'s Route 295 that collapsed after it was struck by a truck Wednesday was deemed to be in poor condition in its most recent inspection and did not meet standards for height clearance.

The incident injured five people, snarled traffic and closed the highway for more than 12 hours. It also shook residents in the Northeast Washington neighborhood, separating them from businesses and churches across the highway while causing alarm about the safety of bridges.

Fire officials Thursday said it was a “miracle” there weren’t more serious injuries. As the investigation continues, engineers were inspecting other bridges the truck passed under, looking for potential damage. City administration and transportation officials were mum Thursday as questions arose about the bridge’s condition and next steps.

A Mack truck was traveling southbound in the far-right lane with its subframe raised as it struck the footbridge, causing the structure to come loose from its moorings, according to a police report. The driver told police he had left a nearby concrete plant and had forgotten to lower the truck’s subframe. The collapse left the truck trapped beneath.

It led to a chain of crashes involving three other vehicles. Four of the five people treated were taken to hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

The highway reopened about 1 a.m. Thursday after crews worked into the night to clear the area. The only remnants of the bridge are the ramps on either side of the highway leading to columns with nothing to hold. Instead, gaping holes show the inner infrastructure of the now-defunct bridge.

Five people injured when pedestrian bridge collapses onto D.C. highway

A routine inspection earlier this year rated the condition of the bridge as “poor,” citing an overall poor condition in the two prestressed concrete T-beams. The bridge showed exposed corroded reinforcing steel and delaminated and cracked concrete interior walls, according to the report of an inspection that was conducted from Feb. 10 to May 14.

“Due to continuing impact damage to the prestressed concrete T-beams, spalls and delaminations in the soffit, and deterioration of the walking surfaces and undersides of both pedestrian approach ramps, consideration should be given to replacing the bridge,” independent contractor Mercado Consultants said in a report prepared for the District Department of Transportation.

The single-span concrete structure located north of Lane Place carries pedestrians eastbound and westbound above Route 295 — also known as the Anacostia Freeway — in a busy commuter corridor connecting to Route 50 and interstates 295, 495 and 95. Fire officials on Wednesday had identified the location as Polk Street, which is about a half-mile north — the site of another footbridge.

The collapsed bridge, built in 1956, has had no major rehabilitation, according to inspection reports. The bridge’s height clearance is about 14 feet, 4 inches.

The bridge does not meet current standards for pedestrians bridge heights. The District’s current policy calls for overhead structures over roadways at a minimum of 17 1/2 feet.

DDOT has for years studied replacing the Lane Place bridge and two other nearby pedestrian bridges that connect communities east and west of the highway.

The agency, which maintains the city’s bridges and roadways, did not respond to multiple inquiries seeking comment on the condition of other pedestrian bridges and any effort to rebuild bridges that fall short of clearance standards. The agency also did not answer questions about the cost of the damage and any plans to rebuild the fallen structure.

Christopher Geldart, the city’s acting deputy mayor for public safety, who provided information about the incident Wednesday, also didn’t respond to a request for comment. The city has not said whether repairs were planned before the collapse as a result of the recent inspection results.

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D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), who represents the area where the collapse occurred, said the footbridge is a vital link used by hundreds of people each day to connect to the Deanwood Metro station, a nearby recreation center, schools, churches and neighbors.

“It is imperative that we understand how this disaster occurred and implement all precautions to ensure that something like this never happens again,” Gray said in a statement.

Even though the incident was attributed to driver error, Gray said it is a reminder that the eastern side of the city needs infrastructure repairs and upgrades. He urged the city to ensure accommodations are made for pedestrians and called for “the fastest possible rebuilding of the footbridge.”

Paul Tutt was sitting on his Lane Place NE porch Wednesday when the truck collided with the bridge across the street from his house. He said he couldn’t believe the booming noise.

“It was scary,” Tutt said while sitting in the same chair. “I thought the driver was going to die.”

Trent Smith, a 59-year-old construction worker who was working a few blocks down from the bridge when it collapsed, said he was nervous when he crossed the next-closest pedestrian bridge Thursday morning.

“If it happened to one bridge, it could happen to another,” Smith said. “Oh, Lord, I hope this bridge don’t collapse, too.”

After the footbridge collision, a BMW traveling in the middle lane swerved and hit the left jersey barrier before a large section of concrete from the bridge fell on top of the roof and front windshield, according to the police report. A Ford pickup truck also traveling southbound behind the truck was struck by a highway exit sign that fell on top of the hood. A Honda Accord stuck the Ford just north of the bridge, the report said.

The collapse was similar to a 1984 incident involving a dump truck and a pedestrian bridge just south of the Lane Place bridge. A raised bed of a dump truck struck a central support beam of a footbridge near the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. No one was seriously injured in that incident.

Paul Duggan and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.