Officials look for way to plug hole in collapsed bridge

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday said state officials are trying to determine whether a portable structure called a “Bailey bridge” could be used as a quick fix to deal with the collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River.

Inslee said transportation leaders are talking with agencies around the country to see if such a structure is available and could be moved to this state — or constructed on the site — to use while a longer-term bridge replacement is pursued.

A Bailey bridge would likely be usable only if inspections show that the piers under the remaining section of bridge are sound.

Inslee said a permanent replacement of the bridge could cost $15 million.

He offered no timetable for a short-term fix or permanent solution.

Joined at a news conference by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, all Washington Democrats, Inslee pledged to work to “restore this artery of commerce and economic growth in our state” as quickly as possible.

Approximately 70,000 vehicles cross the bridge on a typical day.

The governor praised emergence agencies and first responders for a “tremendous display of maritime rescue” in reaching and saving three people who were in vehicles that crashed into the river when the bridge section fell at about 7 p.m. Thursday.

The governor declared a state of emergency in Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties, noting that the highway is a main conduit through Northwest Washington, and its closure — for a “significant period” — will adversely affect state residents and the area’s economy.

Inslee said the state has activated an Emergency Operations Center to assist local officials in alleviating the impacts of the bridge collapse.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday said he has authorized $1 million in emergency funding to begin dealing with the loss of the bridge. Additional funding is expected.

The Washington State Patrol said the bridge collapsed after a truck hauling an oversized load of drilling equipment struck an overhead bridge girder, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River below. All three occupants were rescued, suffering only minor injuries.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Mark Francis said the driver works for Mullen Trucking, based in Alberta, according to The Associated Press.

The tractor-trailer, which was marked as an oversize load, was hauling drilling equipment to Vancouver, Wash., he said.

The top right front corner of the load struck several trusses on the north end of the bridge, Francis said.