[Update] Governor Jay Inslee has released his plan for reconstruction of the Skagit River Bridge. You can read it here.
First, we are glad the Governor is acting in line with our recommendations to quickly erect a temporary bridge.
Second, some work still remains to determine what happened and how it can be prevented in the future. Should DOT be approving permits for loads that won’t fit under a bridge? Even if they do so, bridges will need a better warning system for trucks. DOT needs to re-measure all the bridge clearances and install trip wires (like they have back East) if the vehicle exceeds the height restriction. Also, the height restriction should be based on the lowest clearance, not assuming trucks will use the left lane.
Thankfully, the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit river yesterday did not result in any casualties. With everyone rescued, now the focus must be on getting a new bridge in place as fast as possible. Washington has faced this situation before, as have several other states that succeeded in building new bridges in record time.
Bob Williams, Senior Policy Fellow for the Freedom Foundation, was the legislator for the Mt. St. Helen’s region when it erupted. Based on his experiences in that disaster, here are his recommendations for how to cut through the red tape and get the bridge back online:
- Have the Transportation Committee invite national bridge experts to a hearing on both a temporary and permanent bridge replacement. In my view, based on my long-time history with Dept of Transportation, they are incapable of reacting quickly. Legislators should also meet separately with the Army Corp of Engineers.
In the Mt. St. Helens recovery, the Governor, legislators (I represented that district at the time), DOT, State Patrol and Corps of Engineers met and discussed how to replace a bridge on Spirit Lake Highway. DOT had a lengthy discussion and a long timeline. The Corps suggested a private meeting with Gov. Ray, legislators, and the State Patrol. What happened was a quick bridge replacement (within a week) supervised by the Corps with the State Patrol keeping people out of the area.
The Corps of Engineers has the capability to put up a temporary bridge within days.
- The legislature needs to insist on “out-of-the-box” thinking by DOT. They should review what former LA Mayor Richard Reardon did after the LA earthquakes; what Weyerhaeuser did to complete the DuPont interchange on I-5 in record time; the Minneapolis bridge replacement, and other recent successful examples.
- The legislature should waive prevailing wage and the project labor agreement requirement for the bridge to ensure maximum flexibility and efficiency.
- Reprioritize DOT budget to focus on essential infrastructure. Non-essential projects (bike trails; light rail; etc.) should be delayed to free up essential funds.
- The Committee needs to take a really hard look at DOT’s bridge problems. I don’t know of any other state that has lost 4 major bridges. Something is wrong either in our bridge designs, bridge maintenance, or bridge inspections.
For now, you can follow the Washington State DOT for updates on rerouting: