The Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (WSDOT) has devised a plan to make Inter­state 5 between Mount Ver­non and Burling­ton pass­able again by mid-June, Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee announced this afternoon.

State bridge engi­neers have been work­ing fever­ish­ly to fig­ure out how the bridge that car­ries Inter­state 5 over the Skag­it Riv­er might be repaired. The state’s goal is to tem­porar­i­ly replace the span that failed while a per­ma­nent replace­ment is built.

WSDOT released this image show­ing what the tem­po­rary span will look like:

Skagit River Bridge visualization
Skag­it Riv­er Bridge visu­al­iza­tion (Image: WSDOT)

Fur­ther details were pro­vid­ed by Inslee’s press office on behalf of WSDOT.

The tem­po­rary four-lane bridge will car­ry I‑5 traf­fic over the Skag­it Riv­er at a reduced speed and capac­i­ty. 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.

“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 weeks.

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.

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. WSDOT hopes to have the per­ma­nent bridge open to traf­fic in ear­ly fall.

By per­ma­nent replace­ment, WSDOT does­n’t mean a brand new bridge engi­neered to mod­ern stan­dards, but rather a replace­ment span to take the place of the chunk of bridge that fell into the Skag­it Riv­er on Thursday.

Appar­ent­ly a brand new bridge is not being con­sid­ered because it would cost more. We ques­tion whether this is an appro­pri­ate long-term view.

The Skag­it Riv­er bridge is “func­tion­al­ly obso­lete”, and, as we saw on Thurs­day, very vul­ner­a­ble to fail­ure. Thurs­day’s inci­dent was not the first time that bridge and oth­er bridges have been struck by over­height vehi­cles, as WSDOT has admitted.

Why, then, should­n’t we use this as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to replace the whole struc­ture? WSDOT should put the tem­po­rary span in place and then start work on a whole new bridge to replace the entire Skag­it Riv­er cross­ing. One that won’t have a sin­gle point of fail­ure any­where. Our mot­to should be “Safe­ty First”.

We are spend­ing big bucks to replace, not retro­fit, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Ever­green Point Float­ing Bridge (SR 520 over Lake Wash­ing­ton) because it’s not worth it to try to extend the life of those struc­tures any fur­ther. We should take the same approach with the I‑5 Skag­it Riv­er Bridge.

Now would be a good time to take anoth­er frac­ture-crit­i­cal bridge off of our list of func­tion­al­ly obso­lete cross­ings. If we don’t do this now, we are only post­pon­ing the day when we have to replace the whole thing.

Why not put the $15 mil­lion the state is plan­ning to spend on the “per­ma­nent” span towards a new and safe bridge? (Nine­ty per­cent of that $15 mil­lion is going to be pro­vid­ed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, inci­den­tal­ly, accord­ing to Inslee’s release).

Cer­tain­ly it would cost more upfront to build a whole new bridge now. But by mak­ing such an invest­ment, we can save mon­ey down the road. Our reluc­tance to invest — our will­ing­ness to dither, pro­cras­ti­nate, put off — is what has got­ten us in the lousy posi­tion of hav­ing so much of our infra­struc­ture in a decrepit condition.

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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2 replies on “Inslee: We have a plan for making I‑5’s Skagit River Bridge driveable again by mid-June”

  1. John­son & John­son would be proud. 1st we use a Band-aid and then a Patch. 

    The truth is that the State of Wash­ing­ton has to real­ize the fact that a great deal of their infra­struc­ture is in bad or poor con­di­tion. We need to start from the begin­ning and build high qual­i­ty prod­ucts and struc­tures. A bridge should not become obso­lete in 50 years if it is prop­er­ly engi­neered and built to begin with.

    We need to replace the entire struc­ture now and them begin a planned a course of action to do the same for the entire state.

    If you need help and exper­tise WSDOT might to well to con­tact Cal-Trans, their coun­ter­part in Cal­i­for­nia, and pre­form a com­plete rebuild of all Wash­ing­ton High­ways in order to bring them up to the high­est of standards.

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