Skagit River I-5 bridge work waiting on NTSB OK


by Associated Press and KING 5 News

Posted on May 30, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Updated Thursday, May 30 at 11:34 PM

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- Nearly all the materials for a temporary Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River have arrived at the site and the Washington Transportation Department hopes to meet the governor's goal of spanning a collapsed section by mid-June, officials said.

It's been one week since the I-5 bridge collapse between Mount Vernon and Burlington, Wash. Governor Jay Inslee hopes that the temporary bridge will be ready for traffic by mid-June.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has installed new cameras along detour routes and near where construction is taking placed on Interstate 5 between Mount Vernon and Burlington, Wash., to help drivers choose the best route.

Drivers can refer to a complete map of cameras in the area, as well as a page with a few key cameras along the detour.

Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson told a telephone town hall Wednesday night that work can begin as soon as the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its site investigation, The Skagit Valley Herald reported.

Congestion along the detour routes has eased somewhat, but local businesses have felt the impact of changing traffic patterns. The fallen bridge carried 71,000 vehicles a day.

Among them were oversize load trucks, much like the one that hit the bridge and ultimately took it down.

On Thursday, those heavy haul companies received a memo from the Department of Transportation, instructing drivers not to use the detour routes between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The Department of Transportation says the change is part of its ever-evolving plan to ease traffic in the area.

KING 5 spoke to several companies that specialize in transporting oversize loads, who say the  restriction is making it tough for them to do business.  They can only use the detour routes at night.

"Yes, we've already actually had to cancel three moves, going up into Bellingham for customers, and we've already put a stop to any other bids going up there, said driver Jason Mola with Service Heavy Haul.  "Basically, anything north of Marysville we're not even taking."

When the truck is not moving, he says the company is losing money, along with the clients they serve.

"It's detrimental," said fleet manager Ralph Lopriore.  "If we can't get the machinery there, people can't start their jobs.  If they can't start their jobs, people aren't working,  It's just a spoke in the wheel of how business gets done."

A section of the bridge collapsed May 23 after a girder was struck by an oversize load on a truck. Traffic is detoured through Mount Vernon and Burlington, creating a roadblock on the main trade and tourism route between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Washington Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, introduced state legislation Thursday intended to prevent similar incidents in the future. Senate Bill 5944 would forbid WSDOT from issuing travel permits for vehicles that exceed the maximum height or width restrictions of any bridge or overpass along a vehicle's intended route.

Baumgartner argued that proper oversight is needed to prevent similar events in the future, not more transportation funding.

"This bridge collapse had nothing to do with gas taxes. It's just common sense that DOT shouldn't be issuing permits for trucks that are bigger than the bridges that they cross," Baumgartner said. "We need to get this fixed now."

Kelly Nantel of the NTSB said Thursday that it had no information to release on when its investigation would be complete. An interview with the driver of a pilot car for the truck had been scheduled Wednesday but had to be rescheduled.

"They need to release the site to us and we need to get in the water and inspect the piers and see what shape they're in," state Transportation Department spokeswoman Abbi Russell said from Shoreline. "If they're sound we can start looking at what the temporary structure will look like."

Work is continuing with all possible speed. Divers worked overnight Wednesday in cold murky water to remove jagged pieces of the fallen bridge deck. Some girders still under water have to be preserved for NTSB inspectors, she said.

Work will continue through the weekend. Some piece of the temporary structure can be assembled off-site and rolled into place later.

The temporary bridge will replace the 160-foot section that fell into the water. That will reopen two lanes in each direction. A permanent replacement this fall should restore the bridge.

Federal money is paying for the temporary span and 91 percent of the replacement. But there are no plans for a new and improved bridge to replace the 58-year-old structure. Peterson told the Mount Vernon teleconference that there are a lot more bridges in Washington in worse shape.

"People are getting into a routine," Russell said. "We still have backups here and there." Afternoons seem a little more congested than mornings, she said.
Washington State DOT Skagit Bridge construction cam