Troopers looking for speeding shoppers on I-5

By Linda Brill, King 5 News


MARYSVILLE, Wash. — In Snohomish County, and north along I-5, the Washington State Patrol has a new holiday speed trap.

It’s aimed at shoppers who are speeding to the mall.

Monday morning, the State Patrol put a plane in the sky to catch holiday speeders near the Premium Outlet Mall at Tulalip.

The pilot measures special markers along Interstate 5, then checks speeds using a stop watch.

With eyes in the air, he radios to troopers on the ground.

On the first day of speed shopping patrol, one trooper nailed a driver going 85 in a 60 mile an hour zone.

The State Patrol says nearly half of the speeders in November and December admit they’re speeding to shop.

“Obviously, holiday shopping is frustrating. It’s a mad dash in and out of stores. We would urge people to be calm and collected as they are driving down the road.” said Trooper Mark Francis.

The special shopping speed trap is extended from Marysville, up through Skagit and Whatcom Counties until the end of December.

The State Patrol has a planned holiday emphasis for Thanksgiving all along I-5.

Even after fix, Skagit bridge will be ‘functionally obsolete’

Jerry Cornfield, The Herald

Millions of tax dollars are being spent to temporarily fix then permanently repair an I-5 bridge that collapsed into the Skagit River.

But when the work’s all done, Washington will be left with exactly what it had before: A functionally obsolete, fracture-critical 58-year-old bridge that could come crashing down the next time it gets smacked hard enough in the right place.

“While it’s going to be in the same (classification of bridge), it’s going to be safe to drive on,” said Travis Phelps, a state Department of Transportation spokesman. “We’ll continue to inspect our bridges every two years to make sure they are in good shape.”

Tearing it down and building a brand spanking new bridge might be desired but Washington can’t afford it.

“Right now we don’t have the funding to replace the bridge,” Phelps said.

That means it will retain the same rating it had the evening of May 23 when a southbound semi-truck hauling an oversized load in the right lane struck several of the bridge’s overhead trusses, causing a 160-foot section to tumble into the river. Two vehicles went into the water, but the three occupants survived.

It’s still going to be functionally obsolete because it was not designed to handle today’s traffic volumes, Phelps said. Moreover the trucks traveling on the bridge are taller, wider and heavier then those on the road when this four-lane bridge opened in 1955.

Washington had 1,624 functionally obsolete bridges as of February 2009, according to a tally published by the Federal Highway Administration. The total includes 55 in Skagit County and 104 in Snohomish County.

Absent a complete replacement, the bridge will continue to be deemed fracture critical, which means it is one freak accident away from collapse. There are thousands of bridges in the same condition nationwide.

Phelps said it will be safe to drive on when a temporary span opens as early as this week. A permanent segment will be in place by Oct. 1.

Atkinson Construction of Renton received an emergency $10 million contract to demolish the damaged portion, remove debris from the water and put in a temporary four-lane segment. Acrow Bridge, a New Jersey firm with offices in Washington, is designing the section.

Crews spent the weekend aligning and securing the spans and hoped to begin putting in the bridge deck today, Phelps said. The deck will need to be paved with asphalt and the lanes striped. Once it reopens, traffic will be required to drive much slower than before because the lanes will only be 11-feet wide, roughly a foot narrower than they were before.

Also Monday, bids are due for the contract to provide a permanent bridge replacement. The state estimates it will cost between $3 million and $10 million.

The contract is scheduled to be awarded Wednesday morning.

Federal funds will cover 100 percent of the costs of the temporary fix and 90 percent of the permanent replacement.

Thus far the federal Department of Transportation has committed $16.6 million for the two projects from its Emergency Relief Fund. The federal agency provided $1 million in the days following the collapse and then last week pledged another $15.6 million.

Everyone safe after bridge over Skagit River collapses

Fall of I-5 bridge span under investigation; major traffic disruption expected

Jennifer Buchanan / The HeraldRescuers work in the water after the Interstate 5 bridge collapsed over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday.
Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
Rescuers work in the water after the Interstate 5 bridge collapsed over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday.

By Gale Fiege and Eric Stevick, The Herald

MOUNT VERNON — The four-lane I-5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed about 7 p.m. Thursday, dumping vehicles and people into the water, the Washington State Patrol said.

Rescue crews raced to the scene and after a frantic hour reported that there was no loss of life.

Marcus Deyerin, a spokesman for the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team, said there were only two vehicles involved: a pickup truck towing a trailer and a small passenger vehicle.

Two people were in the truck; one in the car. All were rescued and receiving medical attention, he said. Two people injured in the collapse were en route to Skagit Valley Hospital. A third was being transported to a different area hospital.

There was no immediate reason to believe anyone else was involved in the collapse, but crews were scouring the river to make sure, he said.

“Now we begin the recovery stage dealing with a major interstate highway that is nonfunctional at the moment,” Deyerin said.

“Our state bridge engineer is looking into the possibility that an oversize load may have struck the bridge. Still investigating,” the Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted.

To get across the Skagit River, southbound traffic is being rerouted at Highway 20 to Burlington Boulevard in Burlington. Northbound traffic is being rerouted at College Way to Riverside Drive in Mount Vernon.

“We were extremely lucky that it wasn’t worse,” Deyerin said.

That was especially true given the traffic volume Thursday night, and even more traffic that could have been expected on Friday, the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

He said for people to be prepared for major impacts on travel, particularly in the communities of Mount Vernon and Burlington.

Floyd Richardson, a Mount Vernon logger, was outside his home when he heard the bridge collapse.

“It was like 100 little kids crying. It was like ‘EEEEKKK,'” he said.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the collapse, said Jaime Smith, director of media relations for Gov. Jay Inslee. The National Transportation Safety Board plans to send a “full go-team” to investigate, according to the agency’s Twitter account.

The collapse comes just before the busy Memorial Day weekend.

A lot of Skagit Valley residents are wondering how the fallen span will affect their commutes to work.

“I’ll take the back roads,” Richardson said. “I know all the tricks.”

Homer Diaz, of Mount Vernon, was among the hundreds of bystanders lining the river bank. He crosses the bridge to and from work each day.

Thursday night, the inevitable inconvenience of the pending commute seemed a secondary concern. His fiancé crossed the bridge shortly before it collapsed.

“Thank God she wasn’t on it then,” he said. “I feel sorry for the people who fell in.”

Russell Hester, of Mount Vernon, is eager to learn how long it will take to replace the bridge.

“For the locals, there are not a lot of ways to get across,” he said.

Tasha Zahlis suspected something was wrong when there were two brief power surges at her home nearby and her dogs began barking.

She crossed the bridge 10 minutes before it collapsed on her way home from work.

“I absolutely had an angel over me,” she said. “I am so thankful.”

Michael Szagajek arrived in time to see debris from the collapsed bridged still raining onto the river.

“It was still crumbling,” he said. “It was unbelievable.”

When he spotted one of the drivers in the river standing atop a car, it took him a moment to convince himself what he saw was real.

Tandy Wilbur of La Conner was visiting a car dealership on the river’s north side when the lights suddenly went out.

He ran outside to see what was wrong and realized the bridge had collapsed.

When Wilbur reached the top of the dike he saw a man seated atop an orange Geo Metro in the river.

He began searching the banks to see if there was anyone he could help.

“It is a horrible thing,” Wilbur said about an hour after the collapse.

A crowd of about 1,000 people stood along the dikes as the sun set. Christie Wolfe, of Oak Harbor, was among those who raced to the river’s edge. She knew her truck-driving boyfriend was supposed to be on the bridge about the time it collapsed.

He finally got through on the phone to let her know that he had stopped in time.

Rescue boats and hydrofoils crisscrossed on the river while helicopters hovered above.

The Geo Metro was still in the river, its windshield wipers sweeping side to side.

A hovercraft crew surveying the scene reported there was a full-size pickup truck with a trailer and a smaller passenger car in the river.

Inslee was expected at the scene. He was to be joined by Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste and WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson.

The 1,111-foot, steel-truss bridge was built in 1955, according to the nongovernmental website, which offers a searchable database of the National Bridge Inventory compiled by the Federal Highway Administration. It was built before the freeway for U.S. 99.

The database classifies the Skagit River bridge over I-5 as “functionally obsolete,” which indicates the design is not ideal, but it is not rated as “structurally deficient.”

“‘Functionally obsolete’ does not communicate anything of a structural nature,” according to “A functionally obsolete bridge may be perfectly safe and structurally sound but may be the source of traffic jams or may not have a high enough clearance to allow an oversized vehicle.”

In 2010, according to the database, the bridge carried an average of 70,925 vehicles per day. The substructure was deemed in “good condition,” and the superstructure and deck were described as in “satisfactory condition.”

The federal database says a structural evaluation of the bridge found it “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

According to a 2012 Skagit County Public Works Department, 42 of the county’s 108 bridges are 50 years or older. The document says eight of the bridges are more than 70 years old and two are over 80.

Washington state was given a C in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 infrastructure report card and a C- when it came to the state’s bridges. The group said more than a quarter of Washington’s 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Snohomish County emergency management crews were summoned to the scene,said John Pennington of the agency. Snohomish County sheriff’s office sent a helicopter and its technical water rescue team, which included divers and three boats. Arlington Rural and Silvana fire departments also were sending boats to the scene. Everett police sent their marine unit.

The American Red Cross was sending volunteers to provide first responders with water, food and other supplies, said Chuck Morrison, executive director of the Snohomish County chapter.

More volunteers were sent from Skagit and Whatcom counties because it was unclear if Snohomish County crews could reach the scene as quickly, he said.

Regional Red Cross leaders had just gotten off a plane when they heard the news, Morrison said. They’re working with state disaster officials as well.

“They’ve got it,” he said. “They’re in control. We’re staying in touch.”