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What's next after I-5 bridge collapses into Skagit River

Just one day after the Skagit River Bridge collapsed, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a State of Emergency in three counties and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised $1 million in emergency funds. (AP photo)
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Listen to continuing coverage of the I-5 bridge collapse on KIRO Radio

Lawmakers are scrambling to put together a plan to replace a section of I-5 that crashed into the Skagit River Thursday evening.

"We're going to have to all work together," Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference in Skagit County Friday afternoon. He was joined by Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene.

Earlier in the day, the governor declared a State of Emergency in Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Inslee the federal government will release $1 million in emergency funds Friday for the Skagit bridge.

"The check is in the mail ... to begin some of the immediate repairs," said Sen. Murray.

"We are working extremely hard to do everything we can to make sure this very important corridor gets fixed as soon as possible," the senator added.

"The question here, everyone is working hard on now, is how can we minimize the economic impact in the state of Washington," said Sen. Cantwell.

Inslee said the immediate priority is working to maximize detours around the collapsed bridge and come up with a plan to repair the bridge.

"There's no intent, at this point, to rebuild the entire bridge," said Lynn Peterson, Washington State Transportation Secretary.

One short-term option is a temporary Bailey Bridge, commonly used in World War II. Peterson said that option depends on the condition of the pier holding the collapsed section of the bridge. Engineers will make that determination after more inspections.

The estimated cost to repair the bridge is $15 million, according to Inslee's office.

"There's no way to predict the time this will take to fix. Maybe it's weeks, if not, there's certainly months involved," said Inslee. "WSDOT is working around the clock."

WSDOT began working within an hour or two of its collapse, added Inslee.

Crews have been at the site all day Friday with crane trucks removing power lines and inspecting remaining structures.

The first step will be to remove the wreckage from the Skagit River. The department of transportation has already drawn up those contracts.

Engineers will next reassess the rest of the bridge's spans. Only one of multiple spans went down and Inslee said contractors will need to determine whether significant damage was done to any of the remaining spans.

The third step will be determining how to replace the bridge, or repair the existing bridge.

Inslee said there is some good news, "There is a significant chance we could simply replace it with the original construction designs. That may be possible here."

Replacing the bridge with its original design may be the fastest approach to going about repairs. Due to the nature of the collapse, Inslee said officials will determine if that's the best plan of action.

DOT, NTSB, and State Patrol are all investigating the cause of the collapse.

Deborah Hersman, chairman of the NTSB, says their investigators will likely be on scene for about 7-10 days. The investigation could take about 12 months to complete.

Who's responsible

The trucker was hauling a load of drilling equipment when his load bumped against the steel framework over the bridge. He looked in his rearview mirror and watched in horror as the span collapsed into the water behind him. Two vehicles fell into the icy Skagit River.

"He looked in the mirrors and it just dropped out of sight," Cynthia Scott, the wife of truck driver William Scott, said from the couple's home near Spruce Grove, Alberta. "I spoke to him seconds after it happened. He was just horrified."

The truck driver works for Mullen Trucking in Alberta, the Washington State Patrol said.

Initially, it wasn't clear if the bridge just gave way on its own. But at an overnight news conference, Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste blamed it on a tractor-trailer carrying a tall load hitting an upper part of the span.

"For reasons unknown at this point in time, the semi struck the overhead of the bridge causing the collapse," he said.

The truck made it off the bridge and Scott remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators.

Drivers experience delays

Detours have been set up to try to ease congestion on I-5 and side streets, but KIRO traffic reporters say drivers have been reporting 70 minute delays.

Highway 9, one of the major north-south detours, may not be the best option because of road construction.

Batiste urged drivers to avoid the area if possible, especially over the Memorial Day weekend. Traffic along the heavily traveled route could be affected for some time.


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