Feds to provide $15.6 million for Skagit bridge repairs

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday, June 13 it is releasing the remaining $15.6 million in emergency funds to support repairs to the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River that collapsed three weeks ago.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, said Thursday Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told her in a phone call that the funds were being released. The total cost of the project is $17.8 million. The federal government previously released $1 million. The state is expected to provide the remaining money.

"This accident was a wake-up call for our state and our entire country that we can no longer afford to put off repairs and replacements for our aging infrastructure," Murray said. "It's also an important step for communities in Northwest Washington whose local economies have paid the price in the wake of this collapse."

The Emergency Relief funds will be used to support the temporary and permanent replacement of the bridge, which collapsed on May 23. The program, reauthorized by Congress in last year's transportation bill, provides emergency funding for highway repair after natural disasters or catastrophic failures from an external cause.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency for Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties on May 24, making the bridge repair eligible for the federal money.

Victor Mendez, head of the Federal Highway Administration, said he is committed to seeing repairs to the bridge completed by Oct. 1. He said two temporary spans will be in place by June 20, although traffic over the bridges will be limited to 35 mph.

About $38 million of U.S.-Canada trade cargo crosses the Skagit River on trucks every day.

Also Wednesday, Sen. Maria Cantwell urged a Senate committee to move forward on legislation that would give small businesses more flexibility to secure emergency loans after a disaster, such as the Skagit bridge collapse.

Cantwell has encouraged affected area businesses to document substantial economic injury from the bridge collapse, part of a state effort to apply for Small Business Administration disaster loans.

The Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship could vote on the bill as early as next week.

Victor Mendez's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It was updated June 14.