MOUNT VERNON — Crews are making progress at the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge on the Skagit River that has detoured traffic on the main route between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., the Washington Transportation Department reported Wednesday.
About three-fourths of the wreckage that fell into the water Thursday has been removed, agency spokesman Bart Treece said.
“We’ve got a good chunk of all the debris removed. That was the easy stuff for these hydraulic shears,” Treece said. “But the bridge deck is tough. It’s a matter of breaking it up and removing.”
Some places have to be kept intact for the National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Divers are being used.
The next step will be an inspection of the bridge piers for damage. After that, the department will have a better idea whether it can meet the governor’s challenge to install a temporary bridge by mid-June.
Two of 10 truckloads of temporary bridge parts have arrived at Mount Vernon from Washougal and New Jersey, Treece said.
The bridge collapsed after a semi-truck with an oversize load clipped a steel truss on the span, sending a car and pickup truck with a trailer into the river. A couple in the pickup and a man in the car escaped their wrecked vehicles and the frigid water with minor injuries.
On Wednesday, the NTSB planned to interview the driver of the pilot car that was leading the semi-truck to find out why it hit the truss. The truck made it off the span with the driver seeing the collapsing girders in the rear-view mirror.
The bridge carried 71,000 vehicles a day. Now, traffic is backing up a mile or two on the interstate as cars and trucks make their way on alternate routes through Mount Vernon on the south side and Burlington on north side of the river.
“People have to figure out what works for them,” Treece said. “It takes time for people to figure out what the new normal is.”
Mount Vernon is about 40 miles south of the Canadian border and the I-5 crossing is the third-largest border crossing with Canada. The problem at the Skagit River bridge is a major concern for trade and tourism in both directions, officials have said.
The temporary bridge being assembled by New Jersey-based Acrow Bridge will be 160 feet long with two sections, each 24 feet wide. Treece described it as an “industry size erector set.” That will be enough for two lanes in each direction. It will be a little narrower than the bridge it replaced, so the speed limit will be lowered from 60 mph.
A longer-range bridge replacement will depend on several factors, including the NTSB investigation, Treece said.