I-5 bridge collapse

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Starting in the 1970s, Washington state bridge inspectors made note of evidence that large loads were clipping the Interstate 5 span that recently collapsed into the Skagit River.

By the middle of last year, an inspector identified eight different points on the bridge that had high-load damage, including some portions in which components were deformed by the impact. 

Then, last fall, inspectors encountered perhaps the worst damage yet: A tall vehicle traveling northbound had struck the overhead bridge structure, ripping a 3-inch gash in the steel, causing three portions to distort and tearing off surrounding paint, according to images and documents obtained by The Associated Press under public records law. 

Traffic began rolling across the repaired Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday morning, completing a hasty, around-the-clock salvage and reconstruction job.

The repair started less than four weeks ago after an oversize load brought down the vital bridge.  Northwest Washington drivers and businesses are relishing a return to normal.

Drivers and businesses in Northwest Washington are voicing elation now that there is a firm date for reopening the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River. The Washington Department of Transportation says the temporary replacement bridge will start carrying traffic Wednesday morning.

It took just three and a half weeks to clear the wreckage of the collapsed I-5 bridge and to build a new span across the gap. State transportation secretary Lynn Peterson says the temporary replacement can carry 99 percent of the usual car and truck traffic; no oversize loads will be allowed.

Frank Varga / AP Photo/Skagit Valley Herald

The Washington Transportation Department says a temporary span on the Interstate 5 Skagit River bridge should open this week, less than a month since a section of the bridge collapsed.

Spokesman Travis Phelps says the framework is in place and workers are tightening bolts and welding sections on the temporary structure that's 24 feet wide and 160 feet long.

He says they'll be installing panels Monday that will be paved with asphalt to form the new bridge deck.

Alex Kim

As state engineers work around the clock to install a temporary bridge to replace the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge span in Mount Vernon, one nearby restaurant manager is finding creative ways to keep customers coming. 

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

The Transportation Department says parts 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.

Spokesman Travis Phelps says it will take a little more time reopen freeway lanes that have been detoured since the May 23 bridge collapse, but it should happen before the last week of the month.

That still depends on bridge piers passing inspection and workers overcoming some engineering challenges.

Acrow Bridges via WSDOT

The state Department of Transportation has shared an animation of the temporary bridge span that will be installed in place of the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge in Mount Vernon. 

The animation was put together by Acrow Bridges, the New Jersey-based company building the 160-foot span.

WSDOT

State officials are working to spread the word: visitors can still reach businesses in the Northwest corner of the state in spite of the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge in Mount Vernon.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee directed the state Department of Commerce to release $150,000 for marketing and promotion efforts to help affected businesses. The state will work with local partners in Skagit, Whatcom, Island, and San Juan counties to develop a regional media plan to inform the public that area businesses and attractions are open and reachable by alternate routes and ferries.

WSDOT

Crews have begun removing the mangled steel, crumpled pavement and cars that fell into the Skagit River in Mount Vernon after a span of an interstate highway bridge collapsed.

The Washington Department of Transportation announced that the retrieval of the fallen section began, a day after barges with equipment arrived at the river.

Francisco Rodriguez / Associated Press

Bryce Kenning saw the void before him in an explosion of dust, and there was nothing he could do.

"It was like time was frozen — like a roller coaster where you're not attached to the tracks," he said Friday. "It's something you never think you will ever experience in a lifetime — driving off a straight cliff."

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Federal officials were searching the country for a possible temporary replacement for a bridge that collapsed along the crucial Interstate 5 corridor, but Washington Gov. Jay Inslee cautioned Friday that major disruptions will last for weeks, if not months.

WSDOT

From the Washington State Department of Transportation: 

WSDOT

Just prior to the Interstate 5 bridge collapse Thursday night in Mount Vernon, an oversized load struck a portion of the bridge’s steel superstructure, according to eyewitness accounts. 

The I-5 bridge over the Skagit River was built in 1955. It’s a truss-style structure. All that steel above—"think of it as a 16 foot-tall beam," says bridge engineer Stanley Ryter. "And if any part of that breaks, then you lose the ability to carry the load."

Rick Lund / AP Photo/The Seattle Times

An Interstate 5 bridge over a river collapsed north of Seattle Thursday evening, dumping two vehicles into the water and sparking a rescue effort by boats and divers who pulled three injured people from the chilly waterway.

Authorities said it appeared nobody was killed in the bridge failure that raised the question about the safety of aging spans and cut off the main route between Seattle and Canada.

"We don't think anyone else went into the water," said Marcus Deyerin, a spokesman for the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team. "At this point we're optimistic."