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Skagit Valley businesses tally losses, celebrate opening of I-5 bridge

Traffic crosses the temporary span of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday following a nearly month long closure. (WSDOT Flickr image)

Business owners across Skagit County are breathing a collective sigh of relief after Wednesday’s reopening of the I-5 Skagit River bridge.

“It’s like the weight of the world is off our shoulders with this thing open,” Paul Pickering, owner of Max Dale’s Steak and Chop House in Mount Vernon, tells KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.

Pickering’s restaurant is right on one of the main detour routes used after the bridge collapse May 23. The road became gridlocked with cars and trucks trying to get back on the interstate. And no one was stopping.

“It was really stressful,” Pickering says. “Our front entrance is right on Riverside Drive and to get in the restaurant, as many people know, was really almost impossible.”

Luke was one of those stuck in the gridlock on a recent drive. The last thing on his mind was taking even longer to get where he was going.

“You were in survival mode because there were these long crazy backups and you were just trying to not lose your place in the line.”

The restaurant caters mainly to locals, who avoided the area altogether. Pickering estimates sales dropped about 55 percent in the first ten days after the bridge collapse.

Pickering has plenty of praise for state engineers who got the bridge reopened so quickly. But he calls the second closure of I-5 in the past five years “unacceptable.”

There’s been plenty of talk of lawsuits against the company that owns the truck that crashed into the bridge and the driver. But Pickering says it’s not a priority.

“Right now we’re just trying to get people back into the restaurant and worry about that part later. I do know for us every dollar that we lost is gone forever.”

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