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:
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.