It’s only been six­teen hours since a sec­tion of the bridge that car­ries Inter­state 5 over the Skag­it Riv­er col­lapsed, but already the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (WSDOT) is work­ing on a plan to put the span back together.

Experts have esti­mat­ed the cost of a bridge repair at around $15 mil­lion, accord­ing to an emer­gency procla­ma­tion signed by Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee this morning.

U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray LaHood has already com­mit­ted $1 mil­lion in fed­er­al dol­lars towards the project. Fur­ther help is like­ly to be forth­com­ing from Wash­ing­ton State’s con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion; our senior sen­a­tor, Pat­ty Mur­ray, just so hap­pens to be the Chair of the Sen­ate’s Appro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on Trans­porta­tion, Hous­ing and Urban Devel­op­ment and Relat­ed Agen­cies.

We have to ask: Would­n’t it make more sense to com­plete­ly replace this func­tion­al­ly obso­lete bridge, giv­en that one sec­tion of the span has already col­lapsed? The bridge is going to be out of ser­vice for a while. Per­haps a com­plete replace­ment would take more time to design and build. But it would save time, dis­rup­tion and mon­ey down the road (par­don the pun).

It’s trou­bling that a sec­tion of the exist­ing bridge was appar­ent­ly brought down by an over­height vehi­cle strik­ing the super­struc­ture. If that’s the kind of impact that could sud­den­ly send the bridge deck into the riv­er, then it’s not a bridge that I or any­one else at NPI wants to be dri­ving over any longer. Time to demol­ish this struc­ture and put in a new one engi­neered to mod­ern standards.

We have to get seri­ous about invest­ing in our infra­struc­ture. There is a rea­son that we at NPI are com­mit­ted to fight­ing Tim Eyman’s ini­tia­tive fac­to­ry year in and year out. Tim’s destruc­tive ini­tia­tives pre­vent us from tak­ing care of prob­lems like this before they hap­pen. With­out fund­ing to replace func­tion­al­ly obso­lete and struc­tural­ly defi­cient bridges, we can’t head off bridge col­laps­es and bridge closures.

In 2005, when we fought Ini­tia­tive 912, NPI’s Wash­ing­ton Defense PAC paid for hun­dreds of signs shaped like orange con­struc­tion warn­ing signs read­ing, “NO 912 — SAFETY FIRST”. We used these signs dur­ing our Viaduct Haz­ard Demonstration.

In defeat­ing Ini­tia­tive 912, we saved the 2005 Trans­porta­tion Pack­age and allowed a whole host of high­way safe­ty projects to move forward.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the 2005 Trans­porta­tion Pack­age did­n’t include fund­ing to replace all of our age­ing bridges. That’s why a new pack­age is needed.

House Democ­rats pro­posed a new trans­porta­tion pack­age a few weeks ago, but unfor­tu­nate­ly it is ori­ent­ed around new high­way lanes. Law­mak­ers should repri­or­itze and adopt the mantra we used dur­ing the NO on I‑912 cam­paign: Safe­ty first!

The procla­ma­tion signed by Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee this morn­ing declares that a state of emer­gency exists in Skag­it, Sno­homish, and What­com coun­ties, and puts Wash­ing­ton’s Mil­i­tary Depart­ment in charge of the response.

WHEREAS, a sec­tion of the Inter­state 5 bridge over the Skag­it Riv­er in Skag­it Coun­ty col­lapsed on May 23, 2013, clos­ing the Inter­state in both direc­tions, requir­ing imple­men­ta­tion of detours through adja­cent neigh­bo rhood road­ways, caus­ing exten­sive dis­rup­tion of the pri­ma­ry north and south bound trans­porta­tion route through West­ern Wash­ing­ton, and impact­ing our cit­i­zens, busi­ness­es and econ­o­my in Skag­it, Sno­homish and What­com Coun­ties; and

[WHEREAS] the esti­mat­ed cost to repair the bridge is $15,000,000. Repairs and nec­es­sary inter­state high­way clo­sures require the approval of Washington’s Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion, and the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion is coor­di­nat­ing resources and work­ing to imple­ment dam­age repairs. These emer­gency con­di­tions war­rant clo­sure of affect­ed road­ways for a sig­nif­i­cant peri­od and imple­men­ta­tion of emer­gency pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures to hire a con­trac­tor to repair the dam­age; and The road­way dam­age and its effects con­tin­ue to impact the life and health of our cit­i­zens, as well as the prop­er­ty and trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture of Wash­ing­ton State, all of which affect life, health, prop­er­ty, or the pub­lic peace, and con­sti­tute a pub­lic dis­as­ter demand­ing imme­di­ate action; and

[WHEREAS] the Wash­ing­ton State Mil­i­tary Depart­ment has acti­vat­ed the state Emer­gency Oper­a­tions Cen­ter, imple­ment­ed response pro­ce­dures, and is coor­di­nat­ing resources to sup­port local offi­cials in alle­vi­at­ing the imme­di­ate social and eco­nom­ic impacts to peo­ple, prop­er­ty, and infra­struc­ture, and is con­tin­u­ing to assess the mag­ni­tude of the event.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Jay R. Inslee, Gov­er­nor of the state of Wash­ing­ton, as a result of the above — not­ed sit­u­a­tion and under Chap­ter 38.52 and 43.06 RCW, do here­by pro­claim that a Stat e of Emer­gency exists in Skag­it, Sno­homish, and What­com Coun­ties in the state of Wash­ing­ton, and direct the plans and pro­ce­dures in the Wash­ing­ton State Com­pre­hen­sive Emer­gency Man­age­ment Plan be imple­ment­ed. State agen­cies and depart­ments are direct­ed to uti­lize state resources and to do every­thing rea­son­ably pos­si­ble to assist affect­ed polit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions in an effort to respond to and recov­er from the event. As a result of this event, the Wash­ing­ton State Mil­i­tary Depart­ment, Emer­gency Man­age­ment Divi­sion, is instruct­ed to coor­di­nate all inci­dent — relat­ed assis­tance to the affect­ed areas.

A media avail­abil­i­ty has been sched­uled for 12:30 PM at the Skag­it Coun­ty Admin­is­tra­tive Build­ing. Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee, State Patrol Chief John Batiste, and Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Lynn Peter­son will be joined by Sen­a­tors Mur­ray and Cantwell and Con­gress­woman Suzan Del­Bene, who rep­re­sents Mount Ver­non. They will be dis­cussing next steps and tak­ing ques­tions from reporters.

Inves­ti­ga­tors for the Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board (NTSB) are head­ed to the site and are expect­ed to join in the news con­fer­ence. The NTSB announced last night it was mobi­liz­ing to respond to the dis­as­ter. From their announce­ment:

The Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board has launched a go-team to inves­ti­gate the I‑5 bridge col­lapse over the Skag­it Riv­er in Mount Ver­non, WA. The col­lapse occurred at 7:00 pm local time, last evening.

High­way Safe­ty Inves­ti­ga­tor Robert Accetta will serve as the inves­ti­ga­tor-in-charge, lead­ing a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary team of NTSB per­son­nel. An NTSB inves­ti­ga­tor from the Seat­tle office is en route to the scene and the remain­der of the team will arrive on-scene lat­er today.

NTSB Chair­man Deb­o­rah A.P. Hers­man is accom­pa­ny­ing the team and will serve as the prin­ci­pal spokesper­son dur­ing the on-scene phase of the investigation.

The NTSB is per­haps best known for inves­ti­gat­ing plane crash­es and avi­a­tion mishaps, but it also has the author­i­ty to take the lead in inves­ti­gat­ing oth­er inci­dents, like train derail­ments and high­way bridge failures.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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