Story Summary

I-5 bridge over Skagit River collapses

On Thursday, May 23, the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed, sending vehicles and people into the water below. The northern section of the bridge, which runs between Burlington and Mount Vernon, collapsed.

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Courtesy WASHDOT & Kuney Construction

SEATTLE — By this time next week you could be driving on the new, Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River.

For the last several days, crews have been building the bridge’s permanent replacement next to the temporary span over the river. A huge crane has lifted the huge girders in to place and the next step is to pour the concrete deck this week before moving the permanent span into place this weekend.

“It all involves two sets of rails and a whole bunch of jacks,” explained Travis Phelps, spokesperson for Washington’s Department of Transportation.  “We’re going to lift out the temporary span which is actually two bridges. We’re going to slide that over to the east. Our permanent span, which is to the west, we’re going to raise that up on jacks and slide that over and drop it into place.”

While all that is going on, traffic will be detoured through Burlington and Mount Vernon, from 7 p.m. Saturday through 7 a.m. Sunday.

The bridge replaces a span that collapsed when an oversized semi hit its support beams last May.

Local News

WSDOT to install permanent span over Skagit River soon

BridgeBURLINGTON, Wash. — The final stages of the Skagit River Bridge fix are underway. T

he Washington State Department of Transportation said crews are on schedule to swap out the temporary span for the permanent one. However, the process will require a full shut down of I-5 in Skagit County for at least a couple of days. Officials said the project is on pace to be completed by Oct 1.

Seventy-one thousand vehicles travel through this corridor everyday.

A 160-foot portion of the bridge collapsed into the river May 23, after a semi-truck hit a critical steel support. In July, a temporary span was put in place to allow traffic to flow in the heavily congested area.

The new span will be supported from beneath by girders, instead of overhead trusswork. Later this year, overhead crossbeams in the remaining three spans of the old bridge will be cut and rebuilt, to allow 18 feet of clearance in all four travel lanes.

Local News

Redesign planned for Skagit River Bridge

BURLINGTON, Wash. — Construction work continues on the Skagit River Bridge nearly two months after an oversized load struck the structure and sent portions of the steel deck, two cars and three people into the river.

skagitThanks to some cash from the federal government, the Washington State Department of Transportation plans a redesign to keep other accidents like this from happening again.

The truck that brought that bridge down struck one of the arches — what engineers call a sway frame — and those arches make the clearance shorter on the outside lane than the inside lane.

WSDOT plans to remove all of the arches making the clearance the same height across the bridge.

“This bridge was hit because the over height load was in the wrong lane,” Todd Harrison with WSDOT said.

Beginning in September, all the arches on the bridge will be removed and replaced.

“We’re going to modify (the bridge) in order to take the vertical clearance straight across. So we’ll have a minimum 18-foot vertical clearance all across the width of the bridge,” WSDOT engineer Jay Drye said.

The $4.5 million price tag will be covered by the Federal Emergency Fund and WSDOT, but the trucking company involved in the accident could also be on the hook for reimbursing the cost of repairs.

“With what happened here, it emphasized the fact that there is a risk when we have over-sized vehicles using this route,” Drye said. “We know there’s going to continue to be more oversized loads that use this route. Freight is only going to increase with time. So this type of work will diminish the risk of having this type of incident in the future.”

The permanent replacement bridge is to be put in place shortly after Labor Day on Sept. 2, and the redesign construction of the arches will be started after that. The entire project should be completed by mid-November.

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.

MOUNT VERNONT — A temporary bridge over the Skagit River opened Wednesday morning on Interstate 5, allowing drivers back to the section of the major thoroughfare that collapsed less than a month ago.

The Washington State Department of Transportation announced southbound lanes of the bridge opened shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday. Northbound lanes opened shortly before 6 a.m.

With the temporary bridge comes a temporary change to the speed limit of 40 miles per hour, and load limits for freight haulers. All oversized or overweight trucks must exit and use the current detour route.

BridgeHowever, state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said as much as 99 percent of traffic will be able to cross the bridge, bringing much needed traffic relief to the area.

“This will dramatically reduce the congestion through Mount Vernon and Burlington, and hopefully bring some much-needed normalcy back to our communities.”

A permanent replacement for the span is inspected to be ready for installation after the Labor Day weekend. Installation of the new span could require a full closure of I-5 for up to two weeks.

This vital corridor between Seattle and the Canadian border carries an average of 71,000 vehicles each day and is the only north-south interstate in Washington state.

Local News

Temporary I-5 bridge over Skagit River to open Wednesday

MOUNT VERNON – Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that the Washington State Department of Transportation expects to reopen the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday.

bridge“We’ve asked a lot from WSDOT, the contractor and their subcontractors, and they delivered,” Inslee said. “We’re now in the final stretch of safely reopening the bridge and restoring access for those visiting and doing business in Skagit County.”

With the temporary bridge comes a temporary change to the speed limit of 40 miles per hour, and load limits for freight haulers. All oversized or overweight trucks must exit and use the current detour route.

bridge1“Roughly 99 percent of the car and truck traffic will be able to cross the I-5 bridge again,” state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said. “This will dramatically reduce the congestion through Mount Vernon and Burlington, and hopefully bring some much-needed normalcy back to our communities.”

Crews worked through the weekend to jack the second span into place and install all of the bridge deck. Crews are completing installation of expansion joints, installing barrier, new signs and road striping.

WSDOT has announced that Max J. Kuney Construction of Spokane has been awarded the $6.87 million contract to build the permanent fix for the bridge. That contractor is anticipated to begin work this week and have the finished section ready for installation after the Labor Day weekend and before Oct 1. Installation of the new span could require a full closure of I-5 for up to two weeks.

A portion of a bridge on I-5 collapsed into the Skagit River near Mount Vernon May 23, after a tractor-trailer struck critical steel supports.

This vital corridor between Seattle and the Canadian border carries an average of 71,000 vehicles each day and is the only north-south interstate in Washington state.

SEATTLE — Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Thursday that the federal government will pony up almost $16 million for both the temporary and permanent repairs to the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River.

bridgeThat’s more than 90 percent of the total cost; the rest will be paid by the state.

Murray says the collapse should be a “wake-up call” for us all.  “We can’t take our transportation infrastructure for granted, because like everything else, it just doesn’t last forever,” Murray said.

Her announcement about the federal money came at a transportation hearing she chaired in Washington, D.C., titled, “Our Crumbling Infrastructure.”

While many in the state take the Skagit River collapse as a reason to take a good, hard look at Washington’s aging roads and bridges, Murray’s concern is much wider.  She’s using the occasion to inspect the entire country’s roads and bridges, which, she said, are starved of funds.

“We aren’t really saving any money at all,” she said.  “We’re actually making things worse.  We’re stifling economic growth, we’re putting public safety at risk, and congestion is taxing family’s time with painfully long commutes and causing health-threatening pollution.”

A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S. a “D” when it comes to maintaining roads and a “C+” for bridges.

Indeed, when it comes to bridges, the facts are pretty startling:

  • The average age of a bridge in the U.S. is 42 years old
  • 70,000 of them across the country listed as structurally deficient.
  • The expected replacement cost of those on that list:  $240 billion.

Murray noted that the primary source of funds for the nation’s roads and bridges is the federal gas tax, which just isn’t doing the job.  Right now it’s 18.5 cents a gallon, unchanged since 1993, 20 years ago.  Because of inflation, its purchasing power has gone down as the price of road construction and repairs have gone up.

Murray says she is going to look at ways to find additional money to help with the problem.  Ideas that were talked about at the hearing included increasing the current  gas tax (or perhaps indexing it to inflation); creating a vehicle miles traveled tax; and adding more tolls to the nation’s roadways, something that drivers seem more and more accept.

But there is push back to any plan to increase taxes for transportation.  Many Republicans say the answer is squeezing more efficiencies out of government as opposed to squeezing more money out of taxpayers.


Local News

Feds to fund replacement bridge span

bridge1WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) will fund all emergency support repairs to the I-5 Skagit River Bridge, Washington state Congressmen announced Thursday.

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and U.S. Representatives Rick Larsen (WA-02) and Suzan DelBene (WA-01) announced that the USDOT Emergency Relief will give $15.6 million to fund the entire temporary bridge replacement and a large portion of the permanent replacement bridge.

Sen. Murray said the announcement was “great news” for businesses near the Skagit River.

“It’s also an important step for communities in Northwest Washington whose local economies have paid the price in the wake of the collapse,” Murray said in a written statement. “

In order to receive USDOT Emergency Relief, the state is required to request funding and make a formal declaration of emergency. On May 24, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a State of Emergency for Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

bridge6MOUNT VERNON — Federal investigators on Tuesday released their initial findings on the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, engineers determined a tractor-trailer carrying an oversize load struck the truss over the southbound lanes on the north side of the bridge, causing part of the span to fail and fall into the river.

The driver of the semi was cited in the report, saying he moved to the right lanes before hitting the span because he felt “crowded” out by another semi passing in the left lanes.

The move put the truck’s load, listed in the report as a casing shed, in line with one of the lowest parts of the span.

NTSB investigators interviewed the driver of the pilot car who stated that the pole on the front of her vehicle was 16 feet 2 inches tall, 5 inches taller than the trailing semi’s load height. The bridge’s clearance in the center lane, where drivers with oversize loads are supposed to travel, was about 17 feet. In the far right lane, where the truss is lower, the clearance was 14 feet 8 inches.

According to the NTSB, the bridge’s overhead portal and sway braces suffered significant damage, weakening the northernmost span of the bridge to the point of collapse.

Two vehicles fell with the span into the river. A total of three people had to be rescued from the water.

Further inspection of the bridge in the days after the collapse revealed impact damage in an adjacent span.

The state has estimated the repairs to top $15 million.

Workers are nearing completion on a temporary span that could be finished by as early as next week.