Skagit River Bridge

Gov. Jay Inlsee speaks Sunday just east of the new permanent span on the Skagit River Bridge.

BURLINGTON — Gov. Jay Inslee had just wrapped up a news conference Sunday to celebrate the new permanent replacement span on the Skagit River Bridge when the first cars crossed the span.

“Is that great timing, or what?” said Inslee.

The first cars went across the northbound lanes at 1:45 p.m., about seven hours later than expected. The southbound lanes opened minutes later.

The delay did little to dampen the spirits of a group of elected officials, state transportation workers and local business leaders who were on hand to celebrate the opening.

“I’m as happy as a clam at high tide,” said Inslee. “No one, no one in the United States of America thought we could get this done in 3 1/2 months.”

Inslee, who visited the bridge shortly after a span fell into the river May 23, called the opening of the permanent span “900 tons of good news for the state of Washington.

“When we work together with a sense of dedication and teamwork, we can do hard things,” he said. “And we did it.”

The bridge was closed to traffic at 7 p.m. Saturday to allow workers to remove the temporary span and replace it with the permanent span. That work was expected to be completed by 7 a.m. Sunday.

But cutting through the thick steel plates that secured the temporary span to the bridge piers took longer than expected.

By 1 p.m., the only work that needed to be completed was painting the lane lines on the new span.

“We are waiting literally for the paint to dry,” Inslee said as the last of the work was being done.

When the traffic started to flow, the elected officials and transportation workers shared handshakes and broad smiles.

“This has been a great example of how to deal with adversity,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash. “Here were are today after a lot of great work and the community coming together.”

Inslee said he will push the state Legislature to come up with the funding to repair aging bridges statewide.

If that work isn’t done, he said, there could be more problems with bridges in coming years.

“We can’t afford not to do this work,” he said.

“I’ve seen what a bridge looks like in a river. I saw it that night (in May). It’s not a pretty picture.”

Today, work crews will start to increase the overhead clearance on the entire bridge. There will be seven full closures and 36 partial closures while the work is completed.

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