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I-5 bridge collapse fans political flames

The I-5 bridge collapse into the Skagit River is fanning the political flames over transportation funding in Washington State. (KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)

The I-5 bridge collapse into the Skagit River is fanning the political flames over transportation funding in Washington State.

The bridge is just one of many deemed “functionally obsolete,” which means it had outlived its design life. And some argue it points to the need to spend more money on repairing our infrastructure rather than deferring maintenance.

“We have to blame ourselves for not waking up and saying ‘Hey, there might be other projects that we want, there are things that we would like to have but we actually do have to provide maintenance,'” said 770 KTTH’s David Boze.

Governor Inslee says early estimates to repair the bridge will be around $15 million. And some critics like anti-tax initiative activist Tim Eyman worry Democrats will use the collapse as a way to push a gas tax through and dramatically increase transportation spending.

“Is the Democrats’ first priority to investigate to learn what actually happened so they can initiate a fact-based, measured response? Of course not. Instead, they’re ghoulishly, crassly, exploitatively, and predictably demanding the Legislature unilaterally raise taxes $8.4 billion — without a vote of the people,” Eyman said in a letter to supporters.

The governor and lawmakers said Friday they would do all they can to expedite bridge repair. The federal government has already pledged one (M) million dollars to repair the bridge.

But Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Transportation Department, says the feds spend far too frivolously on transportation.

“For example this week, they announced, and I’m going to get hate mail for this, millions more for bike paths. Well that’s important, but when we have bridges falling down, we have to prioritize, she told Seattle’s Morning News.

Schiavo said there are hundreds, if not thousands, of what are considered deficient bridges; not necessarily dangerous, just not up to today’s standards

Paul Guppy with the conservative Washington Policy Center told Boze he’s worried the process will be slowed by unnecessary permitting, environmental reviews and other red tape. And he says it’s an opportunity to streamline the process for all transportation projects, not just emergencies.

“What we’re trying to point out is that if that were the routine way of running all of our transportation needs, we would not have a giant backlog, he said. “We wouldn’t be diverting money to light rail and the bridges would be maintained in better condition to begin with,” Guppy said.

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