After the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge collapsed last Thursday night, law enforcement has been scrambling to respond to a steady stream of fender-benders and collisions in the valley.
Traffic has been diverted to side roads not meant to handle the increased volume, and drivers are finding themselves struggling to navigate along unfamiliar routes.
“We’ve been slammed,” Officer Edgar Serrano of the Mount Vernon Police Department said of the increase in traffic incidents. “It adds a lot of time, and it makes it hard to respond, especially to priority calls.”
Officers have been trying to avoid getting stuck in traffic as much as possible, said Mount Vernon Police Officer Paul Shaddy. Like everyone else, police have had to get creative finding back routes around backups.
Changes to stoplight timing have brought some relief, with longer lights for main thoroughfares and shorter intervals — about 40 seconds each — for side streets, Shaddy said.
But for the most part, the traffic landscape continues to pose challenges for drivers, especially those who aren’t familiar with the local area.
A semi truck driver on his way to Olympia from Surrey, British Columbia, told State Trooper Keith Leary he usually takes Interstate 5 when traveling south. He traveled Wednesday instead on Highway 9 from the Lynden border crossing to avoid the bridge closure traffic, planning to get to I-5 via Arlington.
While driving the two-lane road near Lake McMurray at 11:47 a.m., a 2010 Dodge Ram pickup truck pulling an empty animal trailer traveling north crossed the centerline at a curve and hit the semi truck, according to State Patrol reports.
The collision blocked traffic for hours in the Lake McMurray area and the Department of Transportation diverted drivers away from the scene.
The 57-year-old pickup truck driver from Snohomish was taken to Skagit Valley Hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Another less serious incident occurred at 5:19 p.m. Wednesday on Highway 9 on the bridge over the Skagit River, which briefly blocked the roadway before it was cleared.
The day before, a six-car pile-up that caused no serious injuries clogged the roadway for hours in the Clear Lake area.
Department of Transportation spokesman Travis Phelps said drivers should prepare for the changes when taking a different route than usual.
“You really need to take some time to scout out what that’s going to look like,” he said.
He also says drivers should not be in a hurry.
“They’re all adjusting to these changes like you are,” he said.
On the whole, Phelps said traffic congestion was lighter Wednesday than the day before.
There were fewer backups and the crowding at the I-5 closure points appeared to be less of a problem.
Traffic continues to ebb and flow through detour areas depending on the time of day, Phelps said.
Phelps has said the DOT planned to install additional traffic cameras throughout the valley this week to give traffic managers a better idea of how well vehicles are moving through the county.
Meanwhile, the State Patrol said it is enforcing traffic laws by stationing troopers at the College Way and Riverside Drive intersection in Mount Vernon and the South Burlington Boulevard and George Hopper Road intersection in Burlington.
Commercial vehicles, towing trailers and motorists are frequently blocking those intersections while trying to beat the red light, the State Patrol says.
Drivers running red lights or blocking intersections may receive a $124 ticket.
— Reporter Gina Cole contributed to this report.