Share story

The Highway 520 bridge reopened at 5 a.m. Wednesday, after crews worked overnight to clear a toppled sign that hit a bus near Lake Washington Boulevard, on the Seattle side.

Firefighters said six females and two males were taken to hospitals with minor injuries after the accident, at around 10 p.m. Tuesday, A work crane for the new 520 bridge was lifting a load of pipe when it hit a sign that spans the highway.

“(The pipe) swung over, hit the bus, ricocheted off the top of the bus and hit the sign, causing the sign to fall on the bus,” said Trooper Chris Webb of the Washington State Patrol.

Sonny Behrends, who was driving east on the bridge when the accident occurred, said he stopped and heard people yelling for help.

“It was surreal,” said Behrends, who lives in Kirkland. “I, with many other drivers, jumped over the median and approached the bus. A large part of the overpass sign fell onto the top of the bus. The front part of the bus was obliterated. The bus driver was lying on the ground. People were crying. Pretty crazy.”

Managers from the Washington State Department of Transportation are meeting Wednesday morning with the prime contractor, Flatiron Construction, to discuss what happened, and possibly change how the job is done, said WSDOT spokesman Ian Sterling.

“They’re not supposed to swing across a live lane of traffic. That was never supposed to happen,” he said.  Flatiron, whose subcontractor was moving the pipes, will be held responsible for funding or building a new sign, he said.

Contractors have delivered pipes this way several times before, with WSDOT consent, by closing the right westbound lane of Highway 520, while traffic passes in the inside lane.   On Tuesday night a routine one-lane closure was underway, so the truck could park on the right side, while the crane mounted on the work bridge grasped the pipes, Sterling explained.

The pipes are used to support a temporary work bridge in the lake near Foster Island, where Flatiron is constructing a $200 million highway segment — to carry three future westbound lanes.

Julie Meredith, the state’s 520 program administrator, was in meetings and not immediately available to comment. All activities related to piling installation and pile driving were suspended at least a day, Sterling said.

The Route 271 King County Metro bus was westbound, according to Metro Transit spokesman Jeff Switzer.

“We’re just thankful that nobody was seriously hurt, which was miraculous. It had the potential to be much worse,” Sterling said.

The incident occurred less than a week after a Highway 520 bridge project construction worker, Joe Arrants of Burien,  was fatally injured in a fall, where the new east highrise is under construction by a different contractor, Kiewit-General-Manson.