Officials plan after bridge collapse

Officials gather at the Skagit County Commissioners room on Friday to discuss next steps after Skagit River Bridge collapse.

MOUNT VERNON — Local officials are looking ahead to a recovery laden with long traffic delays and potentially steep economic impacts.

Lorna Ellestad, a Dike District 12 commissioner, said this morning that if there’s any bright spot in this collapse, its that the region could have a new Skagit River Bridge that could accommodate future flood protection plans.

“Dike District 12 in particular is looking forward to working with (state Department of Transportation) to improve flood protection in that corridor,” Ellestad said. “With the economic times, replacing those bridges had been cost prohibitive.”

The Interstate 5 bridge is one of three that cross the Skagit River at a narrow point. Officials have wanted to replace them with bridges that would allow more water to flow between the banks of the river.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said in a press release that he had spoken with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. His message was that emergency funds would be available to aid repairs. Permitting for the bridge replacement will also be expedited.

But the bridge could still be out of service for many months, said DOT spokeswoman Kris Olsen early this morning.

Ellestad said the economic impact of a long closure would be “huge.”

“It’s all a matter of traffic delays and lost commerce,” she said. “It’s in the millions of dollars per day.”

Recognizing the impact, Gov. Jay Inslee this morning declared a state of emergency for Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

Meanwhile, local elected officials are working today to craft a transportation plan for the next several months.

Susan Swetman, a Big Rock resident, climbed the top of the Dike District 17 levee this morning to look at the damage.

“I just wanted to see something I’ll probably never see again in my lifetime,” she said. “I’m glad nobody was fatally injured.”

The bridge collapsed Thursday evening after a truck’s oversized load apparently struck several of the trusses. The driver is cooperating with Washington State Patrol The northernmost span of the bridge collapsed into the water. Three people were pulled from the frigid waters. Amazingly, nobody died.

Brad and Trisha Pickett were shopping at Home Depot in Burlington when they heard a loud bang. They thought nothing of it until they went outside and saw emergency vehicles streaming to the area.

“This is history that’s going on right now,” Trisha Pickett said. “It will never be the same as it was before.”

Travis Phelps, a spokesman for DOT, said structural engineers will evaluate the bridge and reasons for collapse.

“If you take even a brand-new bridge and you drive a gigantic load into it at freeway speed you could see significant damage and catastrophic failure of that span of the bridge,” Phelps said.

Mount Vernon, Burlington and Skagit County will soon, if they haven’t already, sign disaster declarations.

- Reporter Kate Martin: 360-416-2145, kmartin@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kate_SVH, facebook.com/KateReports.

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