FOLLOWUP: Why did it take 9 hours to clear toppled truck from Highway 99?

(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.

60 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Why did it take 9 hours to clear toppled truck from Highway 99?"

  • wfb March 25, 2015 (12:17 pm)

    Unacceptable. If no lives are at risk and no investigation needs to be conducted for criminal liability, then shove the damn thing to the side and clean up the salmon later. This was not worth inconveniencing tens of thousands of motorists.

  • Eric1 March 25, 2015 (12:33 pm)

    If they had to rely on STP for help in the end, why didn’t they use them in the first place? In yesterday’s pic there is a large excavator in the background which could have easily drug that truck off the road. It isn’t as if that truck wasn’t already a total loss or any more diesel would spill. That would have saved about 8.5 hours that way if those in charge had some balls to make such a call.
    How many millions of dollars wasted to save an already totaled POS truck and trailer?

  • schwaggy March 25, 2015 (12:45 pm)

    Yeah, that was really a non-answer from SPD.

  • Diane March 25, 2015 (12:52 pm)

    WSTC meeting tomorrow night should be very entertaining; this time it is on the new SDOT director’s watch; and the traffic nightmare this time, 50% longer than the infamous June 2014

  • laura March 25, 2015 (1:03 pm)

    I agree that this was completely unacceptable. 9 hrs? This kind of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else in the country. Maybe our transportation peeps need to take notes from some big cities to figure out how it’s done.

  • joe March 25, 2015 (1:06 pm)

    I agree, there was plenty of room to drag it out of the way and open traffic lanes.

  • Alki mom March 25, 2015 (1:10 pm)

    Seems fishy to me.

  • sam-c March 25, 2015 (1:23 pm)

    When I heard news of this happening at 2:30 pm, I thought, “well, good thing it happened now, cause surely they’ll have it cleaned up and cleared out in time for rush hour traffic.” LOL I guess I was wrong.

  • datamuse March 25, 2015 (1:26 pm)

    Aaaaaand Alki mom wins the thread. The rest of us can go home.

  • Kim March 25, 2015 (1:26 pm)

    Another question: why so long to get the tow trucks onsite? They didn’t have to sit in traffic – they could have entered hwy 99 going the wrong direction and reached the site in mere minutes. Everything about this took too long to resolve.

  • BB March 25, 2015 (1:33 pm)

    Someone at SDOT, hates West Seattle.

  • Hannah March 25, 2015 (1:38 pm)

    Lets get another task force to review and analysis why this didn’t work…lets spend thousand of dollars to create a matix to ensure that next time the outcome is different…Kidding me…I still want to know where the Mayor was..does he not have the authority to say MOVE it
    This is his transpertation department and he is ulitimately responsible..and he wants 1 billion dollars for transpertation when he can make a bloody decision to move a truck out of the way
    Not getting my vote for either the transpertation package or for re-election. Bye Bye Mr Murry

  • wetone March 25, 2015 (1:56 pm)

    What’s going to happen when this takes place inside the new tunnel ? How long will it take to respond and clear ? how about damage to tunnel structure itself when a big rig or car wreck and fire are involved ? No easy way to get equipment in for removal. 9hrs yesterday best case, in tunnel how many days… This is not a tunnel slam just good common sense questions as this city seems incapable to handle this kind of scenario even in the simplest easiest cases. BIG FAIL Mayor Murray as your the one that hired people to handle these issues…….

  • sophista-tiki March 25, 2015 (2:11 pm)

    had to spend the night at work, hope my dog is ok

  • Ugh.People. March 25, 2015 (2:16 pm)

    just wait until that happens in the tunnel….

  • Rebecca March 25, 2015 (2:18 pm)

    thanks for following up on this WSB. Please let us know what Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has to say! I was picking up my husband from the INterbay area at 4pm yesterday and luckily had both our kids in tow because after an hour going less than a half mile we abandoned our efforts to get home and had dinner in magnolia.I can’t imagine trying to make it home with a child in after school care and no fall back plan, terrifying. We took our time and tried again 2.5 hours later only to find 99 still closed. Upon reading it eventually took 9 hours, I am utterly stunned. How the heck….?!

    • WSB March 25, 2015 (2:22 pm)

      Haven’t heard back from CM Rasmussen’s office yet (they might be in a council meeting, I haven’t checked the schedule) but I also am getting some followup questions to SPD so stopping down to put them together right this moment.

  • Zanda March 25, 2015 (2:19 pm)

    Time for the Monty Python “fish-slapping” dance

  • Born on Alki 59 March 25, 2015 (2:20 pm)

    I totally agree with Eric1. One excavator and one front loader could have drug this wreck off the road in less than an hour. No Brainer. There is no excuse for the lame response yesterday. This should be an interesting “after action plan”. Too bad the current administration can’t ever seem to execute a “before action plan” that involves common sense.

  • Robert March 25, 2015 (2:20 pm)

    The cost of the truck and cargo pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of person-hours losts to this fiasco. Why SPD/SDOT doesn’t comprehend this is beyond me. The stuff should have been bulldozed to the side and let traffic through, then cleaned up after the Sounders match traffic died down.

  • Diane March 25, 2015 (2:39 pm)

    CC meeting in session re UD BIA with CM Licata; I don’t see Rasmussen at the table

  • KT March 25, 2015 (2:58 pm)

    How many times has something of this nature happened in the last five years? How many times has SPD said they are “studying” their response? How many times has SDOT said they are “studying” what can be done better. Give it up folks. It will happen again and SPD & SDOT will once again “study” their response. I have zero faith that Seattle City Government cares about this type of basic service delivery. After all, they have to worry about Arctic Drilling.

    AND if that is the response time you can get from Lincoln Towing how about finding a towing company that can be responsive in a timely fashion? Why would you be using this company?

  • me March 25, 2015 (3:00 pm)

    They should ban cars and trucks from the roadways! Ha ha. On a serious note, wait till there are two of these at one time. On a less serious note, they should have eaten their way back into the container. :^)

  • datamuse March 25, 2015 (3:11 pm)

    Could’ve been worse.
    Could’ve been a truckload of zombies.

  • Militant Moderate March 25, 2015 (3:15 pm)

    The pic with the woman walking down 99 with her suitcase truly captures the spirit of this debacle.

    It could only be topped by some folks tossing a football or perhaps grilling some steaks.

  • forgotmyname March 25, 2015 (3:17 pm)

    Wah, Wah, Me-attle Whiners. Always is such a hurry – a city where drivers demonstrate every day that anyone eles’s life is less important than that text or that waze update to save you five minutes or simply slowing down to only 10 mph over the speed limit. Seems like too many of you are willing to risk some one else’s safety to go from an ‘acceptable’ to ‘unacceptable’ inconvenience. No responsible transportation authority is going to hurry and rush through clearing a potentially dangerous road hazard because you were inconvenienced. Yeah, shove it aside, no matter if someone slid on a fish in the road (or oil, or any wreck detritus)and t-boned a concrete divider or swerved into another motorist, whatever, you got places to be. And even then you all would still whine about the waste of tax dollars after the city loses the wrongful death suit (“Typical Seattle! Why didn’t they do it right the first time and wait until it was completely clean to open the road?”).

  • DarkHawke March 25, 2015 (3:29 pm)

    I love this “after action report” nonsense, like Seal Team 6 got deployed or something. Bottom line, THIS incident proves that their post-fail navel-gazing resulted in an even WORSE fail. The “Seattle Process” has now gone from governmental gridlock to ACTUAL gridlock. I won’t say this is yet on par with Schell’s cowering in the face of potential terrorism at the turn of the century, or Nickel’s no-plow, no-salt policy for the snowstorm of ’08, but one more city-wide traffic snarl and we WILL be looking for a new mayor. And can we PLEASE elect one with a clue about running a city this time?

  • Jeff March 25, 2015 (3:39 pm)

    Is there any information yet on what actually caused the crash? Did the truck driver just take the curve too fast, or did he perhaps swerve to avoid a collision with another vehicle?

  • West Seattle Hipster March 25, 2015 (3:48 pm)

    Nice to see people questioning our mayor’s leadership during this debacle. As the leader of the city, he and his staff are ultimately the folks who are responsible for finding solutions for situations like this.


    Maybe Murray and his staff simply aren’t qualified for their jobs.

  • ChefJoe March 25, 2015 (3:55 pm)

    What I want to know is, since the RFP process for Seattle’s towing is littered with references to all levels from 911 to traffic camera operators to SPD in-field being able to request towing via the TOPS CMA, why it took 30 minutes for a tow truck to be contacted and all the way until 1 h 45 min in to have a second tow truck arrive for a full semi. Their impound lot isn’t that far south of the incident/WSB afterall.

  • Kim March 25, 2015 (3:57 pm)

    Seeing the picture above, and reading the comments yesterday, it appears that many people abandoned their cars and walked. I’m just curious…how and when do they come back to their cars? When the mess clears and their abandoned car is still sitting there, doesn’t that just add to the mess and clog things up for the folks that stuck around?

    • WSB March 25, 2015 (4:05 pm)

      I don’t know if any cars were fully abandoned. The person who sent us that photo said in their note that the people walking with the suitcase were late for a plane … I’m not sure how they would have known that and I didn’t see the picture until today … also didn’t hear anything about abandoned cars. You might recall from snowstorms past, people have abandoned cars on bridges in those circumstances too, and I *do* recall some towing after that.
      SEPARATELY .. for those who asked about, what if something happens in the tunnel – here’s the official WSDOT explanation of tunnel emergency response:
      (Sent in response to my question on behalf of those who have asked here and in comments following yesterday’s coverage.) – TR

  • bolo March 25, 2015 (3:58 pm)

    Yes the STP nearby heavy equipment could have quickly cleared this wreckage but who would claim legal responsibility and would their insurance policy cover it? You know if one little thing went wrong they would be getting sued left and right!

  • coffee March 25, 2015 (4:01 pm)

    I have to say I have almost zero confidence in SDOT. Traffic lights in this town are not timed correctly, (James and Madison Street are insane), they do not use SPD to assist with traffic during rush hour, I have made several complaints via the phone and during one call the rep told me that nobody would call me back on the issue because it was not deemed important. I have called about street lights that do not cycle, and the list goes on. I believe it is a division that needs a complete forklift of personal.

  • YY in Westwood March 25, 2015 (4:12 pm)

    I think the Transportation Committee needs to read “The Checklist Manifesto”.

  • flimflam March 25, 2015 (4:46 pm)

    I was stuck in the mess last year – I wondered then and now, “why aren’t any police around to direct traffic?”. at least to keep people from blocking intersections and causing actual gridlock. why?

    • WSB March 25, 2015 (5:10 pm)

      FF, we saw people directing traffic at key intersections. 1st and Columbia, by the 99 onramp, for example. I watched on live video through the SDOT map (I wish the SDOT video were embeddable!) – handling both keeping traffic away from the ramp and handling the vehicles (including a bus!) that were backing down the ramp to get off the blocked southbound highway.
      Meantime, I just spoke by phone with SPD’s public-affairs division head Sgt. Sean Whitcomb to ask more followup questions and will add the answers above. One answer to a question many have asked: Why couldn’t they just drag the trailer off the road, never mind righting it? He says they tried and just couldn’t. They tried pushing it, pulling it, etc. – TR

  • JRR March 25, 2015 (5:23 pm)

    I’m so tired of the excuses and “studies.” Just stop letting this happen, leadership. If Seattle wants to be a world class city and not an out-of-the-way cow town, this kind of junk just has to stop. Can you imagine this happening anywhere else for one truck? Seriously?

  • Superman March 25, 2015 (5:31 pm)

    If I were mayor (or even on the city council!) I would have gone down there and single handedly (really, with one hand!) lifted the truck out of the way. And I am outraged, OUTRAGED, that the current mayor and council didn’t do what I would have done.
    P.S. Vote Superman!

  • west seattle codger March 25, 2015 (6:15 pm)

    JRR I object to calling Seattle a “Cow town”. I’ve lived in one. This is more a fishy kind of place. In all seriousness the Class C tow trucks that were needed to move and lift this thing are not around every street corner, and no, I don’t work for Lincoln, it takes time to get the rigs and get them in place to do the lift. As for just shoving it aside, maybe Superman could but you’re looking at probably 80,000 pounds at least. Even if it was shoved aside there would be some likely considerable damage to the road bed. Not well handled yesterday, and very frustrating but I’m much more interested in why the truck flipped.

  • Canyon Road March 25, 2015 (7:05 pm)

    Maybe trucks that are too big to be removed in a timely fashion shouldn’t be allowed on this jerry-rigged “Hwy 99” we have going on at the moment? Did anyone ever consider restricting the size of the vehicles that travel this section of road during this this twists-and-turns and lack-of-access phase of tunnel construction?

  • dsa March 25, 2015 (7:41 pm)

    I totally believe the mayor. He said they did the best they could :)

  • JayDee March 25, 2015 (7:59 pm)

    Why didn’t they just drag the trailer on it’s side into the construction yard whose exit is to the left of the photo?

    No big mystery: The truck driver over-cooked the curve to the right. Drag the trailer of soon-to-be-rotting fish on it’s side to the construction area and deal with it there. If it leaves grooves I am sure we can handle that–there are grooves in the pavement there now.

    Only moveable “Ecology” blocks prevented the trailer from being dragged south into the staging area which had plenty of room.

  • sc March 25, 2015 (8:07 pm)

    Just wondering how things will be when the overdue “big
    one” happens? Hopefully after what happened yesterday people will check the earthquake supplies they have in their cars (water and food). For sure it will be longer than 9 hours to reopen the roadways after the “big one” occurs!

  • jwright March 25, 2015 (8:28 pm)

    forgotmyname, you ought to spend some time on the East Coast. After that, you’ll appreciate just how mellow and laid back Seattle is.

  • beady March 25, 2015 (11:12 pm)

    It took me 4 hours to get from Greenlake to West Seattle yesterday. Four hours!I understand that accidents happen, but it would have been helpful to have police/SDOT workers re-directing traffic.(they may have been at First & Columbia, but they were not on Queen Anne or near the Battery Tunnel where everything was gridlocked.)

  • Fish and Chips March 25, 2015 (11:18 pm)

    Ivar must be chuckling as his restaurants were celebrating his birthday. How Ironic!

  • A-Red March 26, 2015 (7:58 am)

    “I could have managed this so much better,” said the people who have never done anything in their lives quite like this!

  • jwright March 26, 2015 (9:33 am)

    That’s the point, A-Red. I think a lot of people who post here who have never done anything in their lives quite like this COULD have managed this fiasco better than the alleged professionals did.

  • wetone March 26, 2015 (9:40 am)

    A-Red, with the equipment that was with-in a couple hundred feet, (which was used in the end) a flat surface to work on, enough room to pick, pull, push the rig off the road to get traffic moving again and remove at later time, yes there is no excuse for the length this took. None. There was a track-hoe sitting 100ft away that could of had that rig loaded into dumpsters in short time and if the container broke some fish fell out big deal! it’s fish not paint or chemicals. Between back-hoes, street sweepers, people power it would of been cleaned up in short time. Watched the news, Mayor Murray, Sgt.Sean Whitcomb and SDOT Kubly where saying how well this event was handled and in a timely matter with help from their good partners STP…WOW How can these people say that with a straight face ? They must really think people in Seattle are quite gullible… or Murray, Whitcomb and Kubly are just totally not qualified for their positions along with maybe wanting to push their own agendas. I have no problem saying Seattle is in bigger trouble than I thought with the leadership we have. If one thinks was an acceptable time (9hrs.)for this type of incident you need to go work a construction job or any job in the private sector and see how quickly things can happen… Easiest case scenario for this type of incident and city failed, what happens when there is a real problem…….

  • au March 26, 2015 (9:40 am)

    sdot/spd, i’ll save you 100’s of hours of studying the problem; can’t right trailer to tow? Bring in flat bed, lift trailer onto flatbed, drive flatbed away.
    I really have to wonder, is this s^*t intentional?

  • jwright March 26, 2015 (9:41 am)

    Possible ideas for clearing the truck in less than 9 hours:
    Send out a Tweet: Free fish!
    Charter a Sikorsky Sky Crane to fly it out.
    Get a crew from FedEx or UPS to unload the truck (I guarantee it doesn’t take them 9 hours to load or unload a truck).
    Have Port Of Seattle or King County bulldoze it off the road with one of snow plows they use to clear the runways.
    Douse it with gasoline and burn it to the ground.

  • Heather March 26, 2015 (12:54 pm)

    Seattle’s a funny city. We have tremendous growth and opportunity, offer incredible tax savings to developers to encourage density but neglect forward thinking urban transit. Plus, I think we simply have too few police. Someone told me there are two officers assigned to Ballard. Two? I didn’t double check that but it makes sense that when we need them we simply don’t have the police reserves to pull from. One of the earlier comments was spot on when they mentioned lost man hours when people are stuck in traffic for that long. It’s crazy that one accident can cause a 9 hr standstill for a 5 mile circle. This really raises my concern for the cities ability to get people to safety in a real emergency. I can understand that an accident can’t always be moved off the roadway but that there’s no provision to re-route smoothly is shocking.

  • Dee March 26, 2015 (1:24 pm)

    I find it hard to believe they couldn’t have open 1 lane of traffic. Where it happened is a 3rd lane for construction plus not far the new road they built. Why couldn’t they move some of the cement barriers so a single lane could get by? I also don’t understand why they didn’t get a container mover from the railroad, it looks small enough moving containers on rail cars why not have it come and move the container into the construction zone after the cab was righted. It only needed to move a few feet to open one lane.

  • Matt S. March 26, 2015 (1:46 pm)

    Even though Alki Mom won the thread, I showed up to suggest what jwright already did: as taxpayers, we stop being outraged at slow towing operations and just pay for a Sikorsky Sky Crane that flies in, removes road blockages, and dumps them off at Terminal 5.

    That should work great assuming we never actually get that tunnel!

  • Ken March 26, 2015 (5:55 pm)

    The reason it took so long to clear 99 is blatantly obvious – the “leaders” are inept and care not one iota about anything but themselves. Most, if not all of them probably get a kick out of the mess and aggravation these things create. So, they make a conscious effort to drag these situations out as long as they can. I’m a little surprised they didn’t stretch it out until the morning commute just for good measure. If SDOT had any interest whatsoever in clearing the scene faster, they would have requested the help of STP immediately, moved the truck off the highway to a level staging area (just adjacent to the crash site – how’s that for convenience?) and worried about cleaning out and stabilizing everything off-site. Since they chose not to do so when all the pieces were in place to conveniently handle it with the least amount of disruption to the public, it’s obvious what their real intentions were.

  • MOVE Seattle March 26, 2015 (9:30 pm)

    I am starting to wonder if SDOT is in cahoots with Metro for some social engineering by seriously slowing down cars/traffic. Why wouldn’t SDOT do all it can to MOVE Seattle?? Why does SDOT think all traffic will be improved by mass transit that is just as stuck as the rest of us? The 9 hours to move the truck is really an embarrassment for SDOT – and the city!!
    Many people need to drive, just like some people like to eat meat.

  • sophista-tiki March 27, 2015 (4:54 pm)

    finally made it home from QA, I left WS on Teusday.

  • big grin March 28, 2015 (7:15 pm)

    “How can these people say that with a straight face ? They must really think people in Seattle are quite gullible…”

    Well…since the same people with the same politics keep getting voted into office…guess most people in Seattle ARE gullible!

  • Lloyd March 29, 2015 (9:07 pm)


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