Temporary bridge could be up in weeks

BURLINGTON — The Skagit River Bridge could be drivable next month and fixed by late summer, Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday.

“If things go well, it could be up and running by mid-June,” Inslee told a crowd of reporters on the Burlington side of the river. “That will be very good news for everyone in the state of Washington because we know how important this corridor is to the entire region’s economy.”

The governor released a visualization of a planned temporary span that will be set up in the coming weeks.

A permanent replacement, which will be as wide as the current bridge, will be in place by September, he said.

“It will be under construction adjacent to the temporary structure while the temporary structure is in place,” he said. “All of these dates are subject to the whims of nature and some further inspection that we have to go through.”

Traffic engineers are waiting for contractors to remove the twisted pieces of the fallen span to be removed from the water. From there, they can examine the cement pilings upon which the current bridge rests. If they are sound and able to support a temporary bridge, Inslee said the timetable will stand.

Drivers will also have another spectacle to watch as they cross the temporary span — the construction of the permanent span to the west of the I-5 bridge. A company will drive temporary pilings into the river west of the interstate and construct the permanent fix at the same height as the current bridge. When the permanent replacement is completed, the temporary span will be removed and the permanent span will be rolled into its place.

The federal government will pay for 100 percent of the cost of the temporary bridge. The state has applied for federal funds to pay for 90 percent of the permanent fix, said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.

“Local businesses from Mount Vernon to Burlington depend on this bridge,” Cantwell, D-Wash., said. “… every day, $38 million of trade cargo flows through this I-5 corridor, and the majority of it goes over the Skagit River Bridge.”

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene said the repair will not derail the Skagit River General Investigation Study. County and city flood control officials at times have urged replacing the Skagit River interstate bridge to allow for river levee setbacks. As it stands, the levees are at a pinch point in the river system, which causes river levels to climb as floods worsen. Wider levees would allow more water to flow through the area and lessen the risk for a levee breach.

State Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said the temporary and permanent bridge fixes meet the department’s criteria for a “safe and durable” permanent bridge, which minimizes delays and detours.

The temporary bridge will be four lanes with two in each direction, but it will be narrower than the current bridge. The bridge will also require a reduced speed limit, though the number was not available Sunday.

The permanent bridge span will be built to the same dimensions as the old bridge. When complete, Peterson said there will be another closure of I-5 for about two weeks while the temporary span is removed and the permanent span “rolled into place.”

Companies like FedEx and Inrex, a traffic data company, will help DOT with real-time information, which will inform the DOT if detours need to be changed to provide congestion relief, Peterson said.

State DOT has also calibrated several street lights to accommodate the increased regional traffic along Burlington Boulevard and Riverside Drive, city officials have said.

Inslee said his trip to the county was also to let travelers around the state know that “Skagit County is open for business.”

He’s urged Canadians to continue visiting on a radio show on Friday and said the state plans to engage on a marketing effort for Skagit County. There could be more information about those plans in the coming week.