Commuters, businesses rejoice at Skagit River bridge reopening

MOUNT VERNON — Less than a month after a bridge span collapsed into the Skagit River, a temporary roadway is now in place and traffic is once again flowing on Interstate 5.

Drivers and local businesses are breathing a sigh of relief because, finally, the traffic and economy are returning to normal in Skagit County.

The temporary span now handles more than 70,000 cars and trucks every day. Now that those vehicles are back on the bridge, local businesses are out of the detour nightmare that strangled their flow of customers.

“There’s no messing around,” said Bart Treece with the Washington State Department of Transportation. “In an emergency situation, we want to make sure we get traffic moving again as quickly as safely as possible.”

Green is the new pink at Nikki’s Espresso in Mount Vernon now that the detour routes aren’t clogged with traffic.

“It’s way less (trouble) than it was,” said coffee customer Bonnie Philbrick-Born. “I just took the main route into town from Edison and it was a lot easier. It wasn’t as much traffic.”

Business leaders said the economy took a jolt when store fronts like this one suffered double-digit losses

“Anywhere from 10%, up to higher, 70%-80%,” said Kristen Keltz, president of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce. “There were certainly some that were impacted greater than others.”

But now that the temporary span is in place, business is beginning to return to normal.

“We’ve actually picked up a little bit more this morning,” said Beth Thomas, a barista at Nikki’s. “We have a lot of our old customers coming back and people being able to take a minute or two and come back in due to less traffic.”

Drivers have to slow down their speed on the temporary span — speed limits are reduced to 40 miles an hour.

Still, commuters were stunned to see how quickly workers got the span reopened.

“I’m really kind of impressed, you know?” said Philbrick-Born. “I thought maybe the end of summer; I didn’t expect them to be on it.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation still has to get the permanent replacement span up and that means I-5 will close again. WSDOT said the permanent fix could be in place by October.

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