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Bridge collapses in Anchorage's Westchester Lagoon

Laurel Andrews

A pedestrian bridge connecting Downtown Anchorage to Westchester Lagoon collapsed Monday morning as a tree service crew was driving a truck and wood chipper across the structure, according to city officials.

The bridge is now closed until further notice, and the city will be conducting structural analyses of all six bridges that run along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which were all built in the late 1980s.

The Municipality of Anchorage's Park Development and Natural Resources Superintendent Holly Spoth-Torres was on the scene Monday morning as a handful of Gage Tree Service crews worked in spitting rain to lift the fallen wood chipper from where it was wedged between the bridge railing and collapsed floor, using a crane to hoist the equipment up.

The crew was successful in removing the wood chipper from the bridge safely on Monday afternoon, Spoth-Torres later confirmed.

Spoth-Torres said that a Gage Tree Service truck was driving over the bridge when the structure collapsed early Monday.

"We're very lucky right now," Spoth-Torres said, as nobody was injured, no fuel from the wood chipper leaked into the wetlands below the bridge, and the company's equipment appeared undamaged.

The substructure of the bridge appeared to have collapsed, Spoth-Torres said, but a full structural analysis would be needed in order to confirm what happened.

The bridge, roughly 70 feet long, is just north of the lagoon and near where the Chester Creek Trail meets the Coastal Trail, the popular trail that connects Downtown Anchorage and Kincaid Park. Municipality parks and maintenance crews drive equipment weighing up to 10,000 pound across the bridge, Spoth-Torres said. The wood chipper that fell through the bridge on Monday weighed 7,300 pounds, she said, and she was uncertain how much the truck pulling the wood chipper weighed.

Gage Tree Service routinely drives a wood chipper over the bridge, Spoth-Torres said.

"This was not out of the ordinary for them," she said.

The bridge was built around 1987, she said, and maintenance had been performed several times on the bridge's decking -- the uppermost layer -- but not the substructure, Spoth-Torres said.

Five other bridges along the coastal trail were built in the same time period. Now, the municipality will be conducting structural analyses of all 6 of the bridges, she said.

The Westchester Lagoon bridge was closed Monday for an indefinite period of time, Spoth-Torres said. Next week's Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon, which had a scheduled route across the bridge, will have a small detour through a nearby neighborhood, she said.

Spoth-Torres said that replacing the bridge could cost up to half a million dollars, and she wasn't sure Monday how, or when, that money would be appropriated.

Reach Laurel Andrews at laurel@alaskadispatch.com.


By LAUREL ANDREWS
laurel@alaskadispatch.com