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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SEATTLE — With the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River, Gov. Jay Inslee is renewing his push for a big, $8.5 billion transportation package, the centerpiece of which is a 10-cent hike in the state’s gas tax.

inslee bridge collapse“I do hope that this incident will help us all focus our bipartisan effort to find a solution to our transportation needs,” Inslee said Sunday.

Though we still don’t know for sure whether the age or condition of the bridge had anything to do with its collapse, the governor is certainly taking the occasion to remind residents of the state that many bridges and roads in Washington are in bad shape, and to argue for a gas tax package during this special session of the Legislature.

“We just lack the resources to do the work that’s necessary on our bridges,” he said. “This is a decision the people of Washington need to make, and I hope we make this soon to be able to have the resources to have safe bridges.”

Inslee does have the votes to pass a gas tax hike in the state House. It’s the conservative-led state Senate where he’s encountered resistance.  To gain a majority there, it seems that two things will need to happen.

First, the package is probably going to have to include some reforms to the way the Washington State Department of Transportation does business.  There’s just too much frustration with the State Route 520 Bridge pontoon problems, the ferry overruns, Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling issues, among other problems.  Republicans talk about not wanting to throw good money after bad.

The second big thing that is holding this package back is something called the Columbia River Crossing. The governor wants a new span between Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, something that Oregon has already approved.  But many Republicans reject the fact that the plan includes an expensive light rail component.  And, they argue, the governor is trumping up the danger of the current bridge.

“That bridge has 60 years of useful life left on it,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Clark County. “Those pilings are in an anoxic environment.  So, they can’t rot because there’s not oxygen to make them rot.  But I do think that’s a great talking point to frighten people into thinking that we need this bridge.  But it doesn’t pass the straight face test.”

There are some who argue that if the governor just removed the Columbia River Crossing from the package, which is more than $400 million, he might well have enough votes.  But so far he hasn’t done that.

The current legislative session ends June 11.

MOUNT VERNON — Crews have begun the delicate task of removing the wreckage from Thursday’s bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Skagit County.

The trailer and two vehicles that plunged into the Skagit river are still considered evidence, so the National Transportation Safety Boards wants them carefully pulled and analyzed. Once the wreckage is removed, divers will determine the safety of the remaining bridge supports.

photo 3Sketches of a temporary bridge were released to the public during the weekend. The Washington Department of Transportation believes the structure will be in place by mid-June. Until then, drivers will find slower detours.

Crews will use steel girders and no trusses overhead on the temporary structure. Officials said it will consist of two 24-foot-wide structures with four lanes total. Oversize vehicles will not be allowed to cross.

State officials said the temporary bridge will be built off-site, then installed to minimize delays. A permanent bridge will then be constructed next to the existing structure, and moved into place sometime in September.

Lynn Peterson, Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation, said the permanent bridge will have a lifespan of 50 years.

The state applied for federal money from an emergency fund to cover 100 percent of the cost of the temporary fix. Senator Maria Cantwell said federal dollars will cover 90 percent of the cost for the permanent fix. The governor’s office estimates both projects will cost a total of $15 million.

The NTSB’s preliminary report on the collapse will be issued in 30 days.

BURLINGTON — Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to fix the old Skagit River Bridge in just three weeks and totally replace the bridge by November.

bridge collapseIt took only seconds to destroy a chunk of the Skagit River Bridge. A semi colliding with several beams sent one entire section crumbling down.

On Sunday, Governor Inslee announced an ambitious plan to restore I-5 in Skagit County.

“Our department of transportation has developed a plan that we believe has a very good chance of restoring traffic across the river on the I-5 corridor within weeks,” Inslee said.

Authorities hope to have it in place and traffic flowing again by mid-June, but it’s only a band aid. A new bridge will be constructed next to the old one and replace it by September.

“We’re going to get this project done as fast as humanly possible,” Inslee said. “There’s no more important issue to the economy, to the state of Washington frankly, than getting the bridge up and running.”

Most of the tab will be picked up by the federal government, but the first step in the process is cleanup and that has drawn dozens of sightseers.

Steve Bounds has lived in Burlington all his life. He knows the importance of the bridge and is hopeful for the fix.

“I think it’s awesome,” Bounds said. “I thought it would be three months minimum.”

While this bridge gets a major makeover, the governor did not deny the state has a number of deficient and functionally obsolete bridges throughout Washington.

Inslee said, “One way or another we have some work to do investing in our infrastructure, both for safety and for economic growth. I hope we can get that done this year.”

Inslee hopes this incident opens eyes and loosens purse strings in Olympia.

“We were lucky not to have loss of life here,” Inslee said.  “We don’t know if we’ll be lucky next time. So, we need to get together and have a bipartisan solution and I hope we’ll do that this year.”

tempbridgeviz

This is a design visualization of what the temporary bridge may look like. (WSDOT)

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – Gov. Jay Inslee announced a plan Sunday to replace the collapsed portion of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River with a temporary four-lane span until a permanent replacement is built and opened to traffic.

“We will install a temporary span on the bridge that will restore traffic while we build a safe and durable permanent span adjacent to it,” Inslee said. “This plan ensures the economic vitality of Washington state and the communities along this important corridor.”

The temporary span could be place within three weeks, by mid-June, Inslee said.

The temporary four-lane bridge will carry I-5 traffic over the Skagit River at a reduced speed and capacity, Inslee said.  The bridge will consist of two, 24-foot wide structures to replace the collapsed section of the bridge. These structures will be pre-built and trucked to the site to allow for accelerated installation.

The remaining southern section has been examined and will not need to be replaced, he added.

“The plan minimizes the closure time and keeps clear access to popular Skagit County retail business and destinations, including the Anacortes ferry terminal,” said Inslee. “I’m proud of all the work done by the Department of Transportation and all our local and federal partners that resulted in this innovative plan.”

If the remaining inspections of the bridge structure find no additional damage, the temporary bridge could be in place within three weeks, officials said.

Once debris has been removed, further underwater structural examinations will determine if additional repairs are needed before installing the temporary span.

Crews will immediately start work on the permanent bridge when the temporary span is put in place, Inslee said.

Crews will put temporary piers into the river to support a platform adjacent to the collapsed span, where the new section will be built. Once complete, the temporary span will be removed and the new permanent span will be moved into place.

The Washington State Department of Transportation hopes to have the permanent bridge open to traffic in early fall.

Inslee’s proclamation on Friday prompted the immediate $1 million federal emergency quick release funding from the U.S. Transportation Department. Federal funding will make up 90 percent of the cost of a permanent fix. The initial estimate for the total cost of a permanent fix is $15 million.

State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said that although the short-term fix will bring some relief to drivers and the community, the final resolution is still months away.

“We ask for everyone’s patience as we transition from emergency operations to long-term repair,” Peterson said.

Reduced speeds during the interim fix mean traffic backups will continue to be a challenge, both locally and on I-5. Drivers should still allow extra time when traveling through the area. The detours will remain in place to provide drivers with travel options.

“The home stretch will be a two-week total closure of I-5, likely in September, as crews remove the temporary structure and move the permanent bridge into place,” Peterson said.

A portion of a bridge on I-5 collapsed into the Skagit River near Mount Vernon Thursday night after a tractor-trailer carrying an overload struck critical steel supports.

This vital corridor, between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., carries 71,000 vehicles each day and is the only north-south interstate in Washington state.

Local News
05/25/13

Demolition crews arrive at collapsed bridge

SKAGIT COUNTY — Demolition crews arrived at the collapsed Skagit River Bridge Saturday night to begin clean-up of the fallen span of I-5.

The first of two barges delivered a 150 ton crane as well as heavy cutting and lifting equipment.  The second barge will arrive on Sunday.

Divers will also go into the water Sunday to hook up the equipment to the partially submerged vehicles so they can be hauled out of the way.

Kris Olsen of WSDOT said Saturday night that pieces of debris, still in the water, will need to be removed carefully because the National Transportation Safety Board wants to examine them.

“So, we can’t just pull them out.  We have to very carefully cut them and remove them,” Olsen said.  “We’ll keep doing that, it’s like an underwater puzzle that they have to untangle.”

WSDOT officials said the task will be tedious, and last several days.  Once complete, they will get to work designing an option for repairing the bridge.bridgedemolition

SKAGIT COUNTY — New surveillance video clearly shows the very beginning of the I-5 bridge collapse. Power to the camera went off as the bridge crumbled.

On Saturday, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that a truck carrying a wide load collided with the bridge.

NTSB Chairman, Debbie Hersman, said, “It’s the opening of the bridge.  It’s the first frame you encounter. The damage to U-5 is severe.”

Startling, new information reveals this collapse could have been much worse. The second section of the bridge is badly damaged.

Hersman said, “The first four frames of that span also show damage from the tractor trailers load as well.”

According to the NTSB, the semi with its load, measured 15 feet, nine inches tall, but the lowest clearance of the Skagit River Bridge is just 14 feet six inches tall. NTSB investigators spoke with the semi driver on Saturday, who is fully cooperating in the investigation.

“He described hearing a boom and feeling contact in the vehicle,” Hersman explained.

The 41 year-old driver, with over two decades of experience, pulled over after crossing the bridge and spoke with authorities. He claims he never heard from a pilot car driving in front of him about any clearance issue.

Now WSDOT has clearance to move forward.BRIDGECOLLAPSEVIDEO

Local News
05/25/13

Bridge collapse bad for business

BURLINGTON — “Today is my grand opening,” declared Cheryl Hicks, owner of “Hats Off,” a new sports apparell business in Burlington.

Turns out, her timing could have been better, though she could never have guessed part of a bridge on a major federal highway would sit under water, and the detours would wreak havoc.

There is plenty of traffic outside her new business, but it’s a lot of frustrated drivers crawling along to their destination, and they don’t seem to want to stop for anything.

“People do not want to get out of line,” said Hicks. “Once they are in line they are staying there.”

Drivers don’t even want to budge for ice cream!

At Big Scoop, normally a busy spot on a Saturday, the owner, Clara Kyle, said the biggest challenge is, “finding something for all my teenage employees to do.”

Kyle calls the the traffic outside her front door horrendous, but said she hopes eventually, locals will make their way back to her ice cream shop.

“It may take a while and if it does we’ll just go with the flow I guess.”cream

SKAGIT COUNTY — New surveillance video clearly shows the very beginning of the I-5 bridge collapse. Power to the camera went off as the bridge crumbled.

On Saturday, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that a truck carrying a wide load collided with the bridge.

NTSB Chairman, Debbie Hersman, said, “It’s the opening of the bridge.  It’s the first frame you encounter. The damage to U-5 is severe.”

Startling, new information reveals this collapse could have been much worse. The second section of the bridge is badly damaged.

Hersman said, “The first four frames of that span also show damage from the tractor trailers load as well.”

According to the NTSB, the semi with its load, measured 15 feet, nine inches tall, but the lowest clearance of the Skagit River Bridge is just 14 feet six inches tall. NTSB investigators spoke with the semi driver on Saturday, who is fully cooperating in the investigation.

“He described hearing a boom and feeling contact in the vehicle,” Hersman explained.

The 41 year-old driver, with over two decades of experience, pulled over after crossing the bridge and spoke with authorities. He claims he never heard from a pilot car driving in front of him about any clearance issue.

Now WSDOT has clearance to move forward.

WSDOT spokesperson, Bart Treece, said, “We’ve got the green light to start working here and clearing some of the debris out here. We’ve got equipment on the way. We’ve got barges in the river they should be here tonight with some equipment and we’ll go to work.”

WSDOT already has a $15 million dollar deal in place with Atkinson Construction. The goal is to come up with a quick fix to get traffic moving again, then decide on a long term plan. The department still doesn’t know if this bridge should be salvaged or scrapped.

“We’re going to inspect the bridge,” Treece said.  “That’s part of figuring out and answering some of those questions we don’t have answers to. So, we want to make sure we fully understand what needs to be repaired.”BRIDGECOLLAPSEVIDEO

SKAGIT COUNTY — Q13 Fox analyst C.R. Douglas has the political impact of the I-5 bridge collapse in Washington.Bridge collapse

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