Work on temporary Skagit River bridge faces challenges

AND THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 6, 2013 

— Portions of a temporary Interstate 5 bridge could extend over the Skagit River in a day or two and the entire 160-foot gap should be filled by mid-June, reopening freeway lanes that have been detoured since the May 23 bridge collapse, the Washington Department of Transportation said.

"We're gradually launching the bridge across the gap," spokesman Travis Phelps said Thursday.

The department expects to meet its goal of reopening in the second or third week of the month, Phelps said. "We're making some good progress."

No date has been set for the reopening because of remaining engineering challenges, he said.

Some debris still has to be removed and divers have to make sure the bridge piers are in good shape to hold the temporary span, Phelps said. Some repairs also have to be made to the top of piers that will hold the replacement.

The temporary is actually two connected 24-foot wide spans being erected by the contractor, Acrow Bridges. The structure will be a total of 240 feet long for overlapping support, Phelps said. It will restore two highway lanes in each direction and will carry traffic at reduced speed and capacity. The permanent span will be built adjacent to the temporary bridge.

Earlier this week, Washington Department of Transportation released this video animation to explain how the temporary bridge will be built.

The section of the 58-year-old bridge between Mount Vernon and Burlington crumbled when a semi-truck with an oversize load hit an overhead girder. The truck made it off the bridge but two other vehicles fell into the water and three people were rescued with mostly minor injuries.

Traffic on the main highway between Bellingham and Seattle, has been detoured, causing congestion and delays. That section of the freeway carries an average of 71,000 vehicles a day. Washington State Patrol Trooper Sean O'Connell was killed while directing detoured traffic in Conway on May 31 when his motorcycle collided with a truck.

The Transportation Department is holding a public meeting Thursday night at Burlington City Hall to discuss traffic, the temporary span and a permanent replacement this fall.

The Transportation Department is holding a public meeting Thursday night at Burlington City Hall to discuss traffic, the temporary span and a permanent replacement this fall.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating and hopes to have a preliminary report on the facts and circumstances of the collapse by the end of June, spokesman Peter Knudson told the Skagit Valley Herald. A final report on the cause of the accident is months away.

Investigators finally interviewed the driver of the pilot car on Monday and examined a pole mounted on the front of her pickup truck. The pole is used to detect vertical obstructions in the path of the oversize truck.

NTSB officials said the driver's account of her activities in the 72 hours before the accident "did not reveal anything unusual or of significant interest to investigators."

The driver, Tammy DeTray of Olympia, said in a statement released Wednesday that the pole did not touch the bridge. She would have warned the truck driver following her if it had, she said.

She was "horrified" to see the bridge collapse in her rear-view mirror, she said.

The NTSB and Washington State Patrol is still looking for another semi-truck that was on the bridge at the same time as the oversize truck.

Meanwhile, heavy traffic on Highway 9 south of Sedro-Woolley has state and local officials worried about safety in the area, now that the roadway is being used as a major detour route to get around the bridge collapse site between Burlington and Mount Vernon.

DOT officials told the Skagit Valley Herald there are no easy solutions to provide much-needed relief from the sudden influx of traffic.

About 9,700 cars would flow through that area on a normal day, according to 2012 DOT traffic counts. DOT spokesman Dave Chesson said the agency does not know how many more people are traveling through the area now that the bridge is out. More than 71,000 vehicles per day traveled along Interstate 5 before the collapse.

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