The Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River is back open to traffic today, less than a month after a section of the bridge collapsed when it struck by an oversize load.
The Washington State Patrol is strictly enforcing the 40 mph speed limit in place for the temporary span, which is narrower and a smaller shoulder than the original structure.
Southbound lanes opened before 5 a.m. on Wednesday with traffic allowed back on the northbound lanes just before 6 a.m. The bridge has been closed since May 23.
Governor Jay Inslee announced on Tuesday that the bridge would reopen after inspecting the work and praising workers at Mount Vernon.
"This is something that Washington can be proud of, to be able to do this, to use those improvisational skills that were not taught in engineering school, to get this job done," said Inslee.
Inslee also thanked the people of Skagit County.
"The people of Skagit County have shown great patience and great confidence that we were going to be able to get this job done, and I want to thank them for working through this with minimal consternation as we got this job done," said Inslee.
For drivers in Mount Vernon and Burlington, the re-opening can't take place soon enough. Many say what were once quick errands, like going to the grocery store, have been a major ordeal since the bridge collapse.
"It's been really hard and we've tried to go early in the morning and late at night to avoid the midday traffic," said Tisha Schutte. "We hav an appointment Wednesday morning in Mount Vernon and I thought immediately, ya, I don't have to leave early. I will definitely be using it!"
The bridge serves the main corridor connecting Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle, and is used by approximately 71,000 vehicles a day.
Before the bridge was ready to reopen construction crews finished paving the surface, welding certain sections of the bridge, and tightening bolts. Divers will inspect the piers to ensure the bridge is safe for drivers.
The temporary bridge section is narrower than the previous bridge. Two 11-foot-wide lanes will travel in each direction. The Transportation Department says traffic will be reduced to 40 mph on the span.
Local businesses, like the Soup Bowl, are relishing the news of the bridge reopening. The restaurant took about a 10 percent hit after the bridge collapse.
A new TV ad campaign funded by the state Department of Commerce, launched this week, aiming to boost business in Skagit County.
But open or not, when it comes to traveling over the new bridge, some are still a little squeamish.
"Good luck to the first person over it, I'll be taking the back road until the permanent one is up,” said one driver.
The DOT said with Interstate 5 soon back in business, the additional Amtrak Cascades service between Seattle and Bellingham will be discontinued.
Once the temporary span is open, crews will begin work on a new permanent structure, work that will take place next to the current bridge.
The new permanent bridge should be completed this fall. Total costs for the temporary span and new, permanent bridge are estimated to be $18 million.