Initiative would name Skagit River bridge for Eyman

Jerry Cornfield, The Herald

OLYMPIA — Tim Eyman’s thousands of supporters throughout the state may get a chance next year to put the anti-tax guru’s name on the rebuilt Skagit River bridge on I-5.

That’s because a Bothell man filed an initiative to the Legislature on Wednesday to emblazon Eyman’s moniker on the structure which collapsed after being struck by a truck with an oversized load.

Nicholas Santos filed the one-page measure to designate the repaired span as the Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge, “dedicated to the efforts of Tim Eyman to reduce Washington State tax revenues and the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge on May 23, 2013.”

Santos, who moved to the state two years ago, said in an email he’s not done much in politics and filed the measure to demonstrate the ease of getting active.

“My point is to show that anybody without a deeply political background can be involved,” he wrote. “It only takes $5 to file an initiative and it took me a few hours of research to figure out how to craft the text of the initiative.”

Daily Kos writer Wu Ming first suggested giving the collapsed span the new identity of the Tim Eyman Memorial Bridge in a May 24 piece on the national website.

Santos said he got his idea from a photo and meme distributed by Northwest Progressive Institute, a political think tank which has opposed every one of Eyman’s anti-tax measures.

“I took that and went one step further, upped the ante, and used the same tools Tim Eyman uses,” Santos said. “This is a tool of the people and I want it to be understood that most of the barriers are low. So there is no reason for it to be monopolized.

“Additionally, governments that are starved for cash as a direct result of initiatives and the obstructionism that we see in D.C., cannot adequately deal with infrastructure and that has real consequences,” he said. “Mockery is not my motivation, but I do want to send a clear message.”

While Santos may be using Eyman to make a point, followers of the Mukilteo initiative promoter may actually derive a bit of satisfaction from providing their hero with a permanent tribute.

Eyman isn’t interested, however.

“It’s always so silly when opponents of our initiatives attack me personally, as if I have tremendous power. I don’t,” he wrote in an email. “I have a great team who works super hard each year to give voters a greater voice in their government. Regarding our initiatives, some pass, some don’t, but all of them give the average taxpayer an equal voice in the process and that’s something I’m very proud of.”

And this isn’t the first time Eyman’s been the subject of an initiative.

In 2003, David Goldstein famously pushed Initiative 831 to proclaim Eyman a “horse’s ass” but that measure never made the ballot.

As an initiative to the Legislature, Santos must collect and turn in at least 246,372 signatures of registered Washington voters by Jan. 3. If he succeeds, the measure will be sent to the Legislature where lawmakers can enact it or do nothing which would send it to the November 2014 ballot. Lawmakers also could pen an alternative to place alongside it on the ballot.

Santos said Thursday he lacks the resources and organization to gather the signatures.

“I don’t have that kind of expertise,” he said. “If there is enough support for an effort of that scale, I would consider it.”

Meanwhile, several state lawmakers are interested in getting the bridge renamed in memory of Sean O’Connell, the Washington State Patrol trooper killed while working on the detour route during the bridge closure. O’Connell died after his motorcycle collided with a box truck May 30 near Conway.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and Reps. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon and Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said in June they wanted the state Transportation Commission to put O’Connell’s name on the span.

Renaming the bridge in Officer O’Connell’s honor is just a small token of our gratitude for his 16 years of dedication to our state, but it doesn’t even begin to display the level of appreciation all Washingtonians have for his service or the heartache and compassion we feel for his family in the wake of his loss,” they said in a joint statement issued June 3.

Resolutions honoring O’Connell’s life and service that passed in the House and Senate on June 10 did not mention the renaming.

Barge moves crane to Skagit River Bridge construction site

A work barge stationed downstream next to the I-5 Skagit River bridge was positioned there Tuesday morning. Work will begin this summer on the permanent replacement span. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

A work barge stationed downstream next to the I-5 Skagit River bridge was positioned there Tuesday morning. Work will begin this summer on the permanent replacement span. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 6:00 am

By Kate Martin @Kate_SVH

Construction equipment and supplies are moving into the area north of the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge as the contractor prepares to build a permanent replacement for the span that fell May 23 after a truck with a high load struck several trusses.

Spokane contractor Max J. Kuney Construction has brought in a crane by barge and has stored some equipment in the Dike District 12 lot northeastof the bridge, said Jay Drye, assistant regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation. The company had to widen the levee access road to allow room for another crane on top of the flood-protection structure, Drye said.

The permanent span, which will have the same width as the rest of the bridge, will be built west of the temporary bridge. Kuney will also install pilings upriver of the bridge, Drye said. When the permanent span is completed — sometime after Labor Day but before Oct. 1 — the company will slide the temporary span off of the piers and move the permanent span into place.

For now, construction activity will be “pretty slow for quite some time,” he said. The company continues to create designs for the permanent span.

“We are working on a lot of the details,” Drye said.

Max J. Kuney had the winning bid of $6.9 million last month. Four companies bid on the span’s construction.

For more stories and videos about the bridge collapse, visit http://skagit.ws/bridgecollapse.

– Reporter Kate Martin: 360-416-2145,kmartin@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kate_SVH,facebook.com/KateReports.

Skagit River Bridge rallying point at hearing

Congress agrees infrastructure needs to be fixed, but plan remains uncertain

Gina Cole, GoSkagit.com

The Skagit River Bridge snagged Congressional attention Thursday morning, as a subcommittee on transportation appropriations grilled federal officials on how to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and how to pay for those fixes.

A temporary replacement for the span of the bridge that collapsed into the Skagit River two weeks ago should be in place by June 20, with a permanent replacement done by Oct. 1, said Victor M. Mendez, administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

“We intend to meet that deadline,” he said.

The bridge’s collapse has snarled traffic and stalled economic activity in the region, and fueled a national conversation about its failing infrastructure. The federal Department of Transportation has promised emergency funding for its repair.

Sen. Patty Murray, who chairs the subcommittee on transportation appropriations, used Skagit as an example of the “devastation” that can occur when a major roadway is shut down by such an incident.

“Unfortunately, I know all too well what happened when our infrastructure fails,” she said, introducing the hearing.

Murray lamented efforts in Congress to “choke off” investments in transportation projects in favor of shorter-term budget fixes.

“We’re not really saving any money at all; we’re actually making things worse,” she said. “… If we don’t make investments now, we’ll be stuck with a much bigger bill down the road.”

The average age of a bridge in the United States is 42 years. About 70,000 of the nation’s 600,000-odd bridges have been deemed structurally deficient by the Federal Highway Administration. The 58-year-old Skagit River Bridge wasn’t one of them, but it was considered functionally obsolete, meaning if it were built today it would be built to stricter standards.

The bridge also is “fracture-critical,” meaning a failure at one point can cause larger portions of the bridge to fail. That’s what happened when an oversize load struck a truss while heading south on the bridge the night of May 23.

Being fracture-critical doesn’t in and of itself mean a bridge is unsafe, Mendez said at Thursday’s hearing. Requirements for steel toughness, welding quality and other construction elements are stringent, and highway officials inspect those elements regularly, he said.

If a bridge were unsafe, it would be closed, Mendez told the Senators.

For about an hour, the subcommittee questioned Mendez, along with Polly Trottenberg, undersecretary for policy with the Department of Transportation, and Phillip R. Herr, director of physical infrastructure issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

A sticking point at the hearing was how to fund repairs or replacements for any of the nation’s aging roads and bridges. President Barack Obama has suggested using money freed up by military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but many members of Congress want to use that money for other things, and it hasn’t actually been earmarked for anything in particular, Trottenberg said.

Federal grant and loan programs have helped a bit, but there just isn’t enough money to go around, she said.

The Highway Trust Fund, which is where emergency money to fix the Skagit River Bridge is coming from, will soon be depleted, Trottenberg said. For years, Congress has put money from the nation’s general fund into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent.

“This is clearly fiscally and politically unsustainable,” she said.

Herr told the subcommittee that large-scale bridge projects are “too expensive to be implemented with federal funds alone,” but many states face budget crises of their own.

Speakers at the hearing seemed to agree on the need for a long-term plan to fund surface transportation but reached no conclusion on what that plan would be.

The Skagit River Bridge collapse has been “an eye opener for everyone in my state,” Murray said. But challenges funding infrastructure are not unique to Skagit or Washington, she said.

“We’ll be looking very closely at that in the appropriations process,” she said.

Work starts on temporary section for collapsed bridge

Acrow BridgesAn Acrow bridge used at ground zero in New York City. Acrow is building a temporary span to replace the portion of the Skagit River Bridge that collapsed last week.

Acrow Bridges
An Acrow bridge used at ground zero in New York City. Acrow is building a temporary span to replace the portion of the Skagit River Bridge that collapsed last week.

Jerry Cornfield, The Herald

Construction of a 160-foot steel Band-Aid for the Skagit River Bridge began Tuesday while a meticulous examination of the damaged section continued above and below the water.

Acrow Bridge is building the temporary span in pieces on a closed stretch of I-5 to be rolled into place for final assembly once the National Transportation Safety Board completes its work and demolition crews clear away the remains of the collapsed segment.

The Department of Transportation didn’t say how much the temporary bridge costs, but said it would be part of the $15 million emergency contract awarded to Atkinson Construction in Renton to clear the wreckage and rebuild the bridge.

Gov. Jay Inslee is pushing for a mid-June reopening, and state transportation officials say the timeline is doable but caution against chiseling in a date.

There’s no plan to hurry the federal authorities or rush the cleanup. Plus, state bridge experts must still examine the steel and concrete piers that supported the collapsed span to be sure they can be used for the replacement.

“We do have some challenges ahead of us,” said Travis Phelps of the DOT. “We are going to do our best to meet that timeline. We want to be sure it is done right and safe. This work ain’t easy.”

Tuesday brought word that Acrow Bridge, a 62-year-old New Jersey bridge-building firm, will construct the temporary four-lane segment to replace the section that crumbled into the Skagit River on May 23.

When completed, it will consist of two prefabricated steel bridges installed side by side. Each piece will be 160 feet long and 24 feet wide, which is wide enough to support two lanes of traffic. The road will have an asphalt overlay or a factory-applied aggregate anti-skid finish, according to a company spokeswoman.

When the bridge reopens, just about every vehicle, commercial truck and tractor-trailer allowed to travel on it before the incident will be able to travel on it again, Phelps said.

Transportation officials will set a maximum vehicle weight to be allowed on the temporary bridge. Overweight vehicles, referred to as super loads, are not going to be permitted, he said.

Some trucks with oversized loads, like the one that struck the bridge and caused the collapse, could use the bridge if they do not exceed the weight limit, he said. They will need to comply with existing rules, such as use of a pilot car with a height rod, he said.

Speed will be reduced on the bridge because the lanes will be narrower, there will be little or no shoulder and some type of barrier will be in place dividing the northbound and southbound lanes, Phelps said.

Acrow Bridge, which has an office in Camas, Wash., specializes in pre-fabricated modular steel bridges. It has built similar bridges to replace ones damaged in hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy, according to the company.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Inslee moved to assist retailers who’ve seen business plummet since the span tumbled into the river, fracturing one of the major trade and travel corridors on the West Coast.

He approved using $150,000 of the state’s Economic Development Strategic Reserve Account to support economic activity in Skagit County and surrounding areas.

None of the money can go directly to a business, according to the governor’s office. The Department of Commerce will use the money for a media campaign focused on informing the public that the region’s businesses and attractions are open and how best to get there. Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties also will be involved.

The Washington State Patrol has beefed up its presence along the detour routes due to complaints of semi-trucks and cars with trailers running red lights and blocking intersections when traffic signals turn red. Both are infractions and can result in a $124 ticket, according to the state patrol.

“We understand the detours are an inconvenience for motorists but we want to make the routes as safe as possible. Motorists need to pack their patience while these detours are in place,” Trooper Mark Francis said in a statement issued Tuesday.