In Our View: Swift Progress on Skagit River

By:  The Columbian - Staff Writer
Source: The Columbian

What happened Wednesday in Mount Vernon was more than just a bridge opening. It was a testament to the swift wizardry of engineers and construction crews. Using a temporary bridge, the largest transportation corridor along the West Coast reopened less than a month after a portion of the 58-year-old Interstate 5 bridge crashed into the Skagit River on May 23.

"We wanted to get this bridge up and open as fast as humanly possible, and we did exactly that," Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Kudos to the state and federal transportation officials who were able to get the freeway back in reasonable operating order so quickly. We say "reasonable" because the new temporary bridge has a reduced speed limit of 40 mph. The makeshift span has 11-foot-wide lanes with 1-foot shoulders while the remainder of the bridge has 12-foot-wide lanes and 3-foot shoulders.

"Reasonable" operating order also means oversize and overweight loads still are being sent on a detour through Mount Vernon and Burlington.

Congratulations also to Acrow Bridge and Atkinson Construction, whose crews rushed to get the replacement bridge open sooner than many casual observers believed was possible.

The civil-engineering wizardry continues as planning and work unfolds on a permanent replacement bridge. With Max J. Kuney Construction of Spokane as the contractor, this project will feature a new bridge being built just east of the temporary bridge. Then later, crews will remove the temporary bridge and slide the new one into place in about one day, possibly as soon as September. Total cost for all work on the Skagit River bridge is $15.6 million, most of it coming from federal funds.

Each of Washington's U.S. senators issued revealing comments this week that carried between-the-lines meaning for Clark County residents who are embroiled in a dispute over the Columbia River Crossing.

From Maria Cantwell: "Federal, state and local officials have worked with the community in a true team effort to achieve this milestone." She was talking about the I-5 bridge in Mount Vernon. If only she had been talking about the CRC in Vancouver. "I know this partnership will continue as we permanently replace the bridge and continue to spread the word that Skagit County is open for business," Cantwell also said. Too bad such teamwork has not been generated in Clark County.

From Patty Murray: "Unfortunately, the collapse of the I-5 bridge can't be viewed as an isolated incident. This tragedy was a stern wake-up call to the need to re-invest in our nation's crumbling infrastructure." We couldn't agree more. The Interstate 5 Bridge here is older and busier than the Skagit River bridge. Our bridge has three lanes in each direction, not two.

Our bridge has sufficiency ratings of 49 out of 100 southbound and 18.5 northbound, lower than the Skagit River bridge's rating of 57.4. This bridge carries 128,600 vehicles daily; that bridge averaged 71,000 vehicles daily.

Murray continued: "Across the nation, aging roads, bridges and highways are in desperate need of repair, so we must do more to fund important transportation projects and use federal resources wisely." And that includes the Washington Legislature doing its part, by overcoming partisan differences and approving $450 million in matching state funds (with Oregon) so that the pace can accelerate on replacing our dangerously obsolete bridge.