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.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 9 updates
skagit river first span

Photo courtesy of WSDOT

SEATTLE — Washington State Department of Transportation said that work on the collapsed Skagit River bridge is moving along as planned and the bridge is on track to reopen in mid-June.

WSDOT said that crews having been working on the replacement bridge throughout the weekend and finished pouring concrete along with construction of the steel framework on one of the two temporary spans. Monday, crews pushed the first of two temporary sections across the gap in the bridge and will spend the “next several days positioning the span over the new concrete supports.”

Debris from the collapse of the bridge had to be removed from the Skagit River and new concrete pedestals built to support the temporary bridge — in addition to repairs on portions of the bridge that didn’t collapse — had to be completed  before crews could begin working on the temporary spans. Once the first span is complete, crews will then be able to begin work on the second span.

“Getting to this point hasn’t been easy,” Jay Drye, WSDOT assistant regional administrator, said. “Each step of removing and replacing the damaged bridge span has to be carefully choreographed to maximize efficiency, speed and safety.”

BURLINGTON — When the I-5 bridge collapsed, it created a huge headache for residents who live in Skagit County.

bridge1Residents at a public meeting with WSDOT officials say they are literally counting down the days until the temporary bridge is set up.

It’s not only a lifeline to their economy but it’s also critical to ending the spike of traffic accidents since the I-5 bridge collapse.

When will the temporary bridge be in place?

That is what everyone wanted to know, and WSDOT had this answer.

“That is the magical question, isn’t it? Officially, it will be sometime in mid-June; that’s 2 weeks,” said WSDOT official Jay Drye.

“It’s a rough estimate at this point and realistically it could be the third week of June before the temporary bridge goes up.”

“This pain and suffering won’t last very much longer,” said WSDOT official Dina Swires.

But many Burlington and Mount Vernon residents have already had enough.

“Nobody was out there Tuesday working on the bridge; I didn’t go out there last night because I was just frustrated that no one was working on the temporary bridge,” said Burlington resident Tom Shehan.

About 70,000 vehicles, including tractor-trailers, are using detours and even neighborhood streets to get around the huge gap over 1-5. Since the collapse, Skagit County officials say there has been a spike in crashes, specifically in the Mount Vernon area.  With summer around the corner, there is even more concern.

“Traffic is going to be worse, because every teacher and student … are going to be out and they are not familiar with traffic revision; it’s going to be absolutely worse,” said Shehan.

WSDOT says the NTSB  turned over the scene to them on Wednesday.

At the site of the collapse, the steel structure is already coming together. They will be building the temporary bridge from the back side and pushing it in once it is time to install the replacement. In the meantime there is still a lot of cleanup to do. WSDOT says they have retrieved most of the debris from the water, the leftovers could be a challenge to fish out.

Not everyone who showed up tonight had angry words

“You are doing an amazing job, hats off to you, thank you,” said one man.

WSDOT says they will also have to build the pedestals to hold up the temporary bridge.

One of the challenges they are facing is the water level of the Skagit River rising. They still plan to send another group of divers to check the bridge is safe from below.

SEATTLE — The pilot-car driver leading a truck that struck the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, causing part of the span to collapse, said Wednesday she was “horrified when I saw what had happened,” but added that she is not at fault.

bridge4“I take my job and the responsibilities of my job very seriously,” pilot-car driver Tammy DeTray said in a statement. “I have never been involved in any sort of incident like what happened on the (May) 23rd.

“I was horrified when I saw what had happened.  I met with the State Patrol at the scene of the accident and cooperated with their investigation and answered every question that they asked.

“Since then, I’ve continued to cooperate with the National Transportation Safety Board in their investigation.

“As I’ve demonstrated to them, I had my indicator pole set above the clearance height for the truck and in compliance with the regulations for a pilot car. While I was talking with my husband using a hands-free device on a work-related matter at the time, I was in complete compliance with the law in doing so. At no time did the pole touch the bridge, and had it, I would have radioed that to the driver of the truck so that he could take the appropriate action.”

Irene Ruiz, the passenger in a car driven by her husband that barely made it over the bridge before the collapse, said in an interview earlier that once they were on the other side, she checked on the driver behind the wheel of the pilot car.

“She had her hands to her face,” Irene said. “She was very upset. I said, are you OK? She said, ‘They’re going to kill me. It’s my fault, I should have told him to get to the center.’”

Local News

Bridge near Kent closed down for safety

KENT — The Interstate 5 bridge collapse that tossed three people into the Skagit River last month has inspectors working overtime looking into the safety of other bridges around Western Washington.

ski_0967_01One crossing near Kent scheduled to close later this month is instead closing three weeks early. It’s the Alvord T. Bridge that spans the Green River in unincorporated King County.

The span was constructed nearly 100 years ago and the county says it’s just not safe to keep open to the public anymore.

And now more bridges are under the microscope after part of I-5 collapsed in Skagit County last month.

Workers sealed access to the Kent bridge on Wednesday. Now, inspectors across the region are refocusing their attention on bridges like the 99-year-old span.

“It’s basically at the end of its useful life and we’re closing that bridge,” said road engineer Rick Brater. “Given the events that occurred on I-5, we took a look at it.”

The Alvord T. Bridge isn’t alone; officials in Tacoma say the Puyallup River Bridge also needs serious work. Its 80 years old and it looks like it.

Dents and scrapes left from years of trucks and cars hitting the bridge make the crossing look dangerous – but officials say construction in 2015 that will replace two of the six sections is expected to run $30 million.

King County has eight similar bridges to the Alvord T. and all are constructed like the Skagit River Bridge.

Engineers hope to learn something from that catastrophic accident.

Inspectors in unincorporated King County are busy; they manage and maintain 180 bridges countywide and 30 of those crossings still need to be improved or replaced.

Local News

Bridge collapse is bad for business

bridge collapse hurts bizBURLINGTON — At Sukura Japanese Steakhouse, they’ve got delicious food and put on a great show, with chefs twirling spatulas and balancing eggs.

But these days they’re playing to sparse crowds.

“It’s been pretty slow,” said Alex Kim, the owner of Sakura. “A dramatic decline.”

Since the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, Kim’s business has been down at least 50 percent. He notices it the most during lunch hour.

“It would be typically packed by now,” Kim said as he surveyed a big room with a lot of empty tables.

Unfortunately,the traffic on the sushi carousel seems to move faster than the car traffic outside. And most of those cars aren’t stopping along Burlington Boulevard to eat or shop. The heavy traffic is also keeping the locals away.

Angela Walden’s chocolate shop is in the heart of Burlington’s outlet mall, and it resembles a ghost town. They rely on Canadian dollars, and right now the  Canadians aren’t coming.

“They’re being told by their papers and local news media to stay away,” Walden said. “That’s killing us.”

Don Wick, the director of the  Economic Development Association of  Skagit County, said some businesses are down 80 percent since the bridge fell.

He has already heard from some who are considering taking  advantage of an emergency loan program that just became available.

“We want to make sure businesses can stay healthy during this period of time,” Wick said. “It’s very important.”

It’s also important to get creative and keep a sense of humor.

Walden has renamed one of her chocolate specialties “Bridge over Truffle Waters.”

On Sukura’s facebook page, Kim is offering coupons for free appetizers and maps showing the shortest route to his restaurant. He said it’s an extra incentive to customers and he’s glad to see every last one.

“It makes you appreciate everybody,” Kim said. “I remind the employees that when it’s busy, don’t complain — it’s a good thing.”

Local News

Businesses suffer after bridge collapses

Barb and Ashley Best OneSEATTLE — It’s been a rough week for businesses in Burlington.

Since the Interstate 5 bridge collapsed over the Skagit River cars and trucks have been detoured through side streets running through Burlington, but the increase in traffic isn’t helping stores and restaurants along the detours.

Business owners said their business is down 50 to 80 percent, and they’ve resorted to specials and street signs to get people to stop. One sports bar even had bartenders march up and down the boulevard with 12-pack beer containers on their heads to drum up business.

But the problem is that drivers won’t pull over and locals won’t deal with the traffic mess to get to the businesses.

The Department of Commerce is giving a $150,000 grant to the county to help market the area.

SEATTLE — David and Irene Ruiz were just a whisker from their car tumbling backwards into the Skagit River when the Interstate 5 bridge near Mount Vernon, Wash., collapsed last week.

ruizThe couple from Oak Harbor, Wash., said Thursday they were driving right next to a tractor-trailer when the truck hit an overhead girder on the bridge May 23, causing part of the span to collapse and sending three vehicles plunging into the cold water below.

“Boom! I hear this sound up on the top,” David Ruiz said. “The back of the trailer just reared its tires up.

“All I could see was the bridge falling right behind my bumper,” he said.

The couple’s BMW sedan was dangling over the edge.

Ruiz said he slammed on the gas pedal, the wheels caught — and they were safe.

“If we had fallen into the river,” he said, “we’d have gone backwards, and upside down.  It was very, very close to being a big disaster for Irene and I.”

Once they stopped on the other side of the bridge collapse, Irene said she checked on the driver behind the wheel of the “pilot truck,” which was leading the tractor-trailer.

It’s the responsibility of the pilot truck to alert the trucker if there’s not enough clearance to cross a bridge.

“She had her hands to her face,” Irene said. “She was very upset. I said, are you OK? She said, ‘They’re going to kill me. It’s my fault, I should have told him to get to the center.’”

Then David Ruiz said he heard the truck driver hauling the oversize load.  “He says, ‘Did I cause that or did the bridge fall down after I hit it?’ I said, no, you hit the bridge.”

Police arrived. David was the first person to inform them the truck hit the bridge, bringing it down.

Meanwhile, vehicles and people could be seen among the wreckage of the bridge down in the river. It would later be learned that three people went down with their vehicles into the river; none suffered serious injuries. But that was not known at the time.

“I survived something horrible,” David said.

The couple bought some lottery tickets in the days that followed.  They didn’t hit the jackpot, but said they still feel lucky.

bridge4SEATTLE – To help travelers pass the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, the Washington state-sponsored Amtrak Cascades train service will roll out two extra train trips daily between Seattle and Bellingham, it was announced Thursday.

“Travelers need more options for travel and, with the help of Amtrak, Sound Transit and BNSF, we were able to offer this great travel option,” said state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. “We are so fortunate that we have the relationships to make this urgent service a reality so quickly.”

This third, temporary round-trip will depart Seattle at 8:15 a.m. and depart Bellingham at 5:15 p.m.

“Sound Transit is pleased to provide a Sounder trainset during the time this temporary service is in operation,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.

If passenger demand continues, the added round-trip could remain in service until the bridge is repaired, rail officials said.

Reservations are required and tickets are available now by visiting or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL. The lowest-priced tickets for Seattle-Bellingham will be between $17 and $23 one-way. Fares between Seattle and Edmonds are as low as $7 one-way. Customers will be able to receive the lowest fares by buying online more than two weeks advance.

In addition to station stops in Seattle and Bellingham, trains will also stop for passengers in Mount Vernon, Stanwood, Everett and Edmonds. Amtrak Cascades Thruway Buses also offer 10 more trips through the area daily.

SEATTLE — It’s been less than a week since the Skagit River bridge collapse and already there are harsh words flying over who’s responsible.  At least one group is blaming Tim Eyman and his anti-tax initiatives for having taken away needed transportation money.

eyman“We just can’t afford any more of Tim Eyman’s destructive policies,” said Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute. “Eyman’s initiatives have either wiped out billions of dollars, or they have prevented money from being invested because the Legislature couldn’t agree to raise revenue cause they just couldn’t meet the high bar that his initiatives set.”

Villeneuve’s group has created a graphic of the downed bridge with faux sign reading, “Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge.”

“We think Tim Eyman is responsible for the infrastructure deficit,” Villeneuve said.

Eyman responded Wednesday to the attack.

“Efforts by the opponents to somehow make it about me is kind of silly because at the end of the day, it’s the voters that are saying over and over again: Use existing revenues more effectively,” Eyman said. “They’ve got more money than they have ever had. It’s clear that the problem isn’t lack of money, it’s a matter of prioritizing those dollars and spending those dollars as cost-effectively as possible.”

This is the exact debate that lawmakers in Olympia are now having in the aftermath of the bridge collapse. Is a 10-cent hike in the state gas tax necessary to take care of the state’s roads and bridges, or can the state find that money within its current budget?