A barge carrying a Highway 520 construction crane broke loose Sunday night and floated toward waterfront homes in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, stopping five feet from a dock.
Paul Thelen said he saw the lights of a huge barge carrying the crane, as it was windblown toward his dock, just before 11:30 p.m.
“I was brushing my teeth and looked out the bathroom window. It looked like a spaceship,” he said.
Thelen said he called the police harbor patrol, then walked onto the dock and snapped pictures, using a 15-second exposure to capture maximum light. The barge would have hit the dock, except Lake Washington is only 8 feet deep in that spot, so the structure beached instead. Tugboats pulled it away at around 2 a.m., said Thelen, who is CEO of Big Fish Games.
This crane is being used to build the $22 million West Connection Bridge, to link the new six-lane floating highway to the old four-lane highway, until a future segment reaches the Seattle shore.
The drifted equipment consists of a derrick barge supporting the crane, and two barges attached, said Dave Becher, construction manager for the state Department of Transportation. Normally the barges are held securely by vertical posts known as “spuds,” that are driven into the lake bottom. Three spuds are visible in the photo, suggesting they may have been uprooted. Wind gusts Sunday night were between 30 and 40 mph, the DOT says.
“The spuds are at a certain level. They broke loose, and soon, they’re floating,” said Becher. The west-connection site near Foster Island includes some shallow water, so if spuds came loose, a barge would float for a while in deeper water, until nearing land again, he said.
The state DOT and the west-connection contractor, Mowat-American, will investigate. “This is obviously concerning,” Becher said. “These are large vessels. We wouldn’t want them to hit another barge, we wouldn’t want them to hit the bridge.” Kiewit-General-Manson, the neighboring contractor installing the floating pontoons and decks, was not involved in the incident, but KGM helped in the retrieval, by dispatching an on-call tugboat around midnight, and by allowing the wayward crane to be moored to a KGM buoy mid-lake, said Becher.
The crane barge was re-fastened Monday morning at its jobsite, said Becher. This week the DOT plans another in a series of westbound bridge closures overnight, from 11 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m Wednesday, so Mowat-American can continue pouring concrete for new columns.