(UPDATED 6:07 PM after followup conversation with SPD)
(Reader photo texted shortly after the crash)
12:01 PM: “Why did it take 9 hours?” is the big question today, one day after a truck full of fish went sideways on southbound Highway 99 in the stadium zone, leading to a 9-hour shutdown that clogged traffic citywide. We have some early answers from Seattle Police:
Lincoln Towing responded to the scene with two large tow trucks and one standard-size tow truck.
Eventually Lincoln Towing personnel were able to raise the overturned trailer. However, the load of fish in the trailer’s container had shifted, causing the truck to become unstable. At this point the trailer was upright, but still blocking all southbound lanes. Lincoln Towing determined the trailer’s cargo of would have to be off-loaded in order to stabilize the trailer.
City officials ultimately had to rely on personnel from Seattle Tunnel Partners, and used their heavy equipment to off-load a portion of the container. Once about half of the container’s cargo was removed, the trailer was deemed stable enough to be moved from the viaduct.
STP is WSDOT’s contractor for the Highway 99 tunnel project. All of the above is from a long update published a short time ago on SPD Blotter; it also includes a dispatch-log timeline and aggregated tweets (some of which were featured in our as-it-happens coverage Tuesday afternoon/evening) about the incident.
We also have an inquiry out to Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Transportation Committee and has pursued extensive followups on earlier incidents, most notably last June’s 4-mile, 5-hour shutdown after a head-on crash on 99 just south of the West Seattle Bridge. Some of the changes promised in this September followup report/”after-action plan” (embedded below) were clearly in effect yesterday – SPD/SDOT communication, longer hours for the SDOT traffic-management center communicator(s):
But Tuesday’s truck mishap was a completely different type of incident, without a major criminal investigation to complicate things, so it brings up different questions. We’ll update this report with anything more we find out today.
P.S. We’ll mention again that SDOT leaders including director Scott Kubly were already booked for tomorrow night’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, 6:30 pm Thursday at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center, if you want to ask your own questions and/or hear the answers firsthand.
4:30 PM: Councilmember Rasmussen says he has the same info that you see above from SPD, plus, “I have already requested that SPD and SDOT prepare reports for the Council. We will be scheduling a presentation of their reports to the Council and are working on that date and time now.”
5:26 PM: We talked a short time ago with SPD’s media-relations/public-affairs Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, seeking answers to several followup questions:
First: Commenters asked, couldn’t they just drag the trailer/truck off the highway? No, says Sgt. Whitcomb, there was no way to do that. They tried towing it, dragging it, pushing it; it just wouldn’t work, it wasn’t stable enough, so finally they tried Seattle Tunnel Partners’ heavy equipment. “It was an engineering problem – getting the damaged, jack-knifed truck up on its wheels, stabilized, just took a great deal of time and consideration … determining that additional tools were needed was part of the problem-solving process.”
Could STP have been involved sooner? Maybe, but, “at the heart of it, this was a towing operation,” said Sgt. Whitcomb. The circumstances “would be hard to replicate – complicated by the damage (to) and the position of the truck. It was fortuitous that (STP) were just right there and could help when needed – a spirit of partnership between the state and the city.” (STP is WSDOT’s contractor for the tunnel project.)
He said it was cleared as soon as possible, in the end, and they were at one point afraid it could have taken even longer – “there was a two am conference call planned” at one point, to see what the prospects were for the morning commute. The mayor’s office was notified early on, and the information loop went all the way to the top at SPD, including consultation with Deputy Chief Carmen Best, #2 in command. Originally, he said, they had hoped it would be cleared by the evening commute, but at some point, everyone but those directly involved in the towing/clearing were “spectators.”
Sgt. Whitcomb didn’t have details handy on whose truck it was or what happened to the fish, though he recalled a truck spill in the past (full of Mountain Dew) in which the contents of the trailer had to be disposed of because once there had been a mishap, the items weren’t salable.
So what now? In addition to the reports about the 9-hour closure, the collision remains under investigation, Sgt. Whitcomb said. No indication of DUI, but, he pointed out, generally “somebody will be cited … ‘accidents’ don’t just happen, it’s either mechanical failure or operator error – a rule of the road has been violated and somebody will be cited.” And when it comes to commercial vehicle operation, that kind of ticket is “a big deal,” he notes.