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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Local News

An old, battered bridge? ‘Hey, right here,’ Tacoma says

TACOMA — The Interstate 5 bridge collapse into the Skagit River has put a lot of focus on bridges in Washington.

224988-MOne of the worst spans may be in Tacoma, where the city has been trying to replace one particular bridge for years.

More than 15,000 cars a day go over the Puyallup River Bridge, between Fife and Tacoma. Take a drive over it and you’ll see plenty of dents and bruises where cars or trucks have struck it.

Rust runs all over the structure and  there are areas where crossbeams have been sheared off.

It’s been around since the 1920s and has been in bad shape for years. Like the Skagit River bridge that collapsed, it’s listed as ‘structurally deficient.’

“Over time another incident like what happened with the Skagit River is going to happen here,” said Joel Beske, who walks or drives over the bridge every day.

The city agrees something needs to be done.

“It’s an 80-year-old bridge and it needs to be replaced,” said Chris Larson, a city engineer.

Tacoma is responsible for the bridge and has tried to replace it for years. But there is no money in the budget to do that.

Engineers are now planning to replace two of the six sections that make up the bridge, thanks to $38 million they’ve collected in state and federal grants. Construction won’t likely start until 2015.

“We’d love to replace the whole bridge, and we’ll apply for money in the future as it becomes available,” said Larson.

He believes the bridge is still safe as long as drivers and truckers adhere to weight limits that have been in place for the past couple of years.

Local News

Tacoma bridge at risk

bridge 3

A popular Tacoma bridge that carries around 15,000 cars a day may also be at risk to collapse like the Skagit River Bridge did last week in Mount Vernon.

There’s plenty of weaqr and tear on  the bridge, and it apparently has already been struck by a vehicle, leaving a portion of a crossbeam sheared off.

MOUNT VERNON, WA — Washington state’s Department of Transportation is working around the clock to get the collapsed section of the I-5 bridge cleared out.

On Thursday, a  tractor-trailer semi hit the overhead girder of the I-5 bridge causing the northern portion of the bridge to collapse.  Three people and two vehicles crashed into the river below.  No one was seriously injured.

So far, officials said about 2/3 of the clean up is complete. The hard part, officials said, is trying to get the bridge deck off the bottom of the Skagit River. This might require actually breaking into pieces before bringing it up.

The National Transportation Safety Board is continuing their investigation. Pieces of new bridge are now on sight, but can’t be installed while the investigation is ongoing.



Photo: Slow Loris Shirts

MOUNT VERNON — The I-5 bridge collapse in Skagit County sparked creativity in one local T-shirt maker.

Slow Loris Shirts founder Jessica Lynch posted on the company’s website one day after last Thursday’s collapse “we felt compelled to alter our Skagit Truss Bridge shirt a wee bit to honor its ‘functionally obsolete’ status. We’re also celebrating that no one was hurt, and how ridiculous a C- score is.”

The company had a Skagit River Bridge shirt for sale prior to the collapse.

When the bridge collapsed, the company decided to make the new shirt with the C- on it for the 10 or so people who might ask for them, but the company has already gotten more than 200 requests, Lynch told KUOW radio on Tuesday.

“It affects all of us who live here and just want to go to Costco. It’s a big deal having all these people drive through. It was an idea to put a smile on our faces when we’re sitting in a traffic jam,” said Lynch.

Slow Loris Shirts has been in business since 1997.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Last Thursday, a tractor-trailer hit the overhead girder of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River just seconds before part of the span tumbled into the water below. The state publishes the clearance height of bridges, but it’s up to truckers to take responsibility for their own loads.


Acrow Bridge built this temporary middle span in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Acrow Bridge)

In fact, the truck involved had the proper permits and followed a route suggested by the state.

Retired truck driver Arvin Wright said Tuesday that he is curious to find out if the truck driver who hit the steel girders  took the necessary precautions before passing through.

“I don’t put all the blame on the truck driver, if you don’t have the right pilot car, that pilot should have radioed well before he hit the bridge,” said Wright.

The National Transportation Safety Board will be interviewing the pilot driver on Wednesday.

If the investigation moves along as expected, the temporary bridge will be installed by mid-June.

For the past two days, dive teams sifted through tons of highway debris submerged in the Skagit River.

“It could be that there are clues in the river that they don’t know about, and until they know all of those things we don’t want to touch anything,” Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Broch Bender said.

Once the NTSB has all the pieces to determine what caused the bridge collapse, the priority for WSDOT will be to replace the broken part of the bridge.

“If we were to replace the entire span, that would require much more time much more money and it would also mean more vulnerable bridges would get delayed,” said Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.

A New Jersey-based company, Acrow Bridges, will design the span that will plug the hole. The company specializes in prefabricated bridges and will design the I-5 replacement on site. Palettes of steel already line the streets here waiting to be molded into a temporary bridge.

“We are putting two bridges side by side,” said Acrow Bridges CEO Bill Killeen.

Killeen says the bridge is designed for full interstate capability. WSDOT, however, will impose a limited capacity on the bridge until a permanent fix in September.

The replacement will have four lanes but it will have no overhead steel trusses like the rest of the bridge.

“I’ve been over bridges like that hundreds of times,” said Wright, who added that he has not safety concerns regarding the temporary span.

The I-5 bridge is vital to interstate commerce, generating about $14 billion in revenue every year.


Acrow Bridges built this temporary middle span in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Acrow Bridges)

SEATTLE — Acrow Bridges, a 62-year-old New Jersey bridge-building firm, will construct the temporary four-lane span to replace the collapsed I-5 bridge over the Skagit River, the Everett Herald reported Tuesday.

Acrow, which specializes in prefabricated modular steel bridges, said that it has built similar bridges to replace damaged ones in Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy.

Acrow will build the temporary bridge in pieces on a closed stretch of I-5, to be rolled into place once it’s completed and the National Transportation Safety Board completes its work.

“Materials for the new temporary bridge have started to arrive,” the Washington State Department of Transportation said on its website Tuesday. “And we are on pace to meet Gov. (Jay) Inslee’s challenge to get the temporary bridge open by mid-June. Our plan is to place two temporary bridges side by side, one span each for northbound and southbound traffic. The spans will be 24 feet wide and 160 feet long.”

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — It’s been five days since part of the Interstate 5 bridge crashed into the Skagit River after a truck hit an overhead steel girder, but there are signs of progress as parts of the temporary span started to arrive.

Larsen PicDivers continued their dangerous work looking over damaged wreckage submerged underwater.

“We’ve made some significant progress,” said Bart Treece, of the Washington State Department of Transportation. “We’ve got hydraulic sheers that have been cutting up this bridge. We’ve removed about two-thirds of the debris.”

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who represents Washington’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the area north of the Skagit River, including Burlington, toured the damaged section of bridge alongside the National Transportation Safety Board.

Larsen said repairing the bridge as fast as possible is vital to the state’s economy.

“People are working together very closely,” Larsen said. “There’s still some dollars to be had from the emergency relief fund at the federal level.”

Investigators said an oversized truck caused the bridge’s collapse on May 23. The oversized load from Canada struck a steel girder, causing the bridge to collapse.

The truck had the proper permits and followed a route suggested by WSDOT, but the state doesn’t guarantee the clearance height on any of their bridges and said truckers or pilot cars are responsible for their loads.

“The published heights are a little bit shorter than the actual height,” said Treece. “We’ve built in a little slack in case we have an overlay project on the bridge or if there’s a truck with over-inflated tires on the bridge. We want to make sure we’re extra safe, that’s just an added layer of safety in there.”

The truck driver has been cooperating with the NTSB’s investigation into the crash.

Meanwhile, lawmakers promise a repair is coming very soon.

“The money won’t be a problem at all. I’ve talked to (U.S. Transportation) Secretary Ray LaHood; I’m assured that nothing is in the way of making sure things happen quickly,” Larsen said.

A temporary span is scheduled to be put into the bridge in mid-June.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — A temporary bridge could be up sooner than many expected. WSDOT crews say a replacement could be installed by mid June on I-5 over the Skagit River.

pickupBut even then, traffic will still be slow because cars will pass on a limited capacity.  Heavy trucks won’t be allowed to cross and the speed limit will be lowered until a permanent fix in September.

Just like the I-5 bridge, some of the detours seemed like it was going nowhere at times on Monday.

“People are getting a lot more impatient,” said Burlington resident Daniel Inman.

South Burlington Boulevard was jammed in the height of Memorial Day rush hour. It’s just one of several detours for the more than 70,000 drivers affected by the bridge collapse.

“Mount Vernon is pretty much off limits for me as far as I am concerned,” said Inman.

Riverside Drive is now a main artery between Burlington and Mount Vernon but for Inman the detour is too much of a hassle. He’s taking the side streets, but so are many other locals.

“Double the traffic,” said Inman.

For example, Anacortes Street is a neighborhood stretch now seeing more and more commercial traffic and with that comes concern of pedestrian safety. WSDOT says it’s crucial for drivers to plan for backups.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good mix right now to get people moving in these alternate routes,” said WSDOT spokesperson Bart Treece.

WSDOT is lengthening traffic signal times along the busiest alternate routes and they say traffic patterns could change starting Tuesday. They will have engineers studying the travel patterns to make any necessary changes as people get used to the new normal. But the stunning collapse is something people will never get used to. Dozens of spectators watched Monday as crews plucked the two mangled vehicles from the Skagit river.  Investigators also canvassed below the river’s surface for more clues and possible damage.

“We are looking at everything that has to do with this bridge kind of taking the opportunity while its closed to look at anything that needs to be repaired,” said WSDOT spokesperson Dave Chesson.

Contractors will place a temporary steel structure to gap the hole once the NTSB gets all the pieces they need for their investigation on what went wrong. Some drivers say they are not in a hurry to get back on the bridge.

“It’s a little nerve wrecking,” said Burlington resident Vonnijo Web.

Web says she and her son crossed the Skagit River two hours before the collapse. Since then she has not crossed a bridge.

“How quickly would I react how fast could I get out,” said Web.

After experiencing the unbelievable, some drivers say they are squeamish to cross the bridge even after a fix. The NTSB has asked for specific pieces of the collapsed bridge along with the mangled cars as part of their investigation.

Moments before the collapse an overweight truck hit the steel girders of the bridge. It’s not the first time over the years the bridge has been hit before. In fact it’s not uncommon for bridges to be hit. In 2012 alone there were 24 different cases statewide.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Work crews pulled two cars out of the Skagit River on Monday and Washington State Department of Transportation teams scoured the bridge looking for any more signs of damage after Thursday’s collapse. Dive teams also looked for clues on submerged steel.

car“This is a golden opportunity to go over the entire bridge with a fine-tooth comb,” said Dave Chesson with WSDOT.

The bridge collapsed last Thursday, tossing three vehicles into the water; three people suffered only minor injuries. Investigators believe a tractor-trailer from Canada carrying an oversize load might have struck a steel girder, causing the bridge to fail.

Freeway traffic has been re-routed through Burlington and Mount Vernon since the crash.

A third barge could arrive on scene later Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Once the National Transportation Safety Board hands the scene over to WSDOT, the cleanup should be quick.