The loss of the Interstate 5 bridge just north of Mount Vernon will have a massive, if not yet fully understood, impact on commerce moving north and south between the United States and Canada.

The highway is the main arterial roadway connecting Alaska and Canada to the west coast of the United States and Mexico.

Don Alper, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University, said approximately 4,000 trucks cross the border in each direction every day.

Alper said more than $13 billion worth of exports travels north across the border along Interstate 5 every year on trucks. He said another $6 billion per year moves south across the border.

“This is a huge artery for north-south trade across the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada,” Alper said. “That to me is the biggest impact.”

Melissa Fanucci, senior planner of the Whatcom Council of Governments, said in an email that an estimated 70 percent of trucks moving north and south through the three US-Canada border ports of entry have trips that would take them south of the collapsed bridge.

The 70 percent estimate is based on origin-destination research of surface freight conducted by the Western research institute and the Whatcom Council of Governments in 2009.

Using U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data and this percentage figure, Fanucci estimates that more than $9.4 billion traveled northbound across the Skagit River bridge and more than $4.4 billion traveled southbound across the bridge in 2012.

Total two-way trade across the bridge is an estimated $13.9 billion per year, Fanucci wrote in the email.

Alper said the highway closure will force trucks to take detours around the affected area or possibly use alternative routes such as Highway 99 or State Route 9. When time is money, such diversions come at a cost.

“When freight gets slowed down, or diverted, that’s expensive,” Alper said.

Alper said the freight most affected by the delays moving north include agriculture, refined petroleum products, manufactured products such as airplane parts, and wood products — all of which are major drivers of industry in Skagit County and Northwest Washington.

In 2010, the value of exported manufactured products crossing the border north via the three mainland Northwest Washington crossings exceeded $6 billion. Food, not including unprocessed agricultural products, valued over $1 billion, farm products just less than $1 billion and wood products.

Updates to come at

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