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Less than Four Months after Collapse, Skagit Bridge Replaced

Less than four months after I-5 was severed when a bridge over the Skagit River collapsed, traffic is flowing over a permanent replacement for the failed span.

The temporary bridge that was quickly put into place over the Skagit River near Burlington after the accident last May was closed at about 7 on Saturday night, and all vehicles on this major highway linking Seattle with Vancouver, B.C. were detoured onto local streets.

More than 70,000 drivers use the bridge each day, and at noon on Sunday, traffic was still backed up for miles.

Crews working through the night slid the two temporary spans to the side, and eased the permanent replacement span into position. Jay Drye, an engineering manager with the Washington Department of Transportation, says that wasn't as easy as it might sound.

“The bridge joints themselves had to be cut in order to get the temporary bridges out of the place before we could jack them up and move them,” Drye said. “So the contractors had to cut those joints, full width, all the way across, an inch and three quarters of solid steel.”

Gov. Jay Inslee, standing in front of the new bridge, celebrated the final fix on Sunday.

“We have 900 tons of good news for the citizens of the state of Washington, because last night and this morning, we moved 900 tons of permanent I-5 to restore this interstate connection so that our economy can grow in the state of Washington,” he said.

A cheer went up as the first cars started crossing the new bridge at about 2 p.m. Sunday.

A second phase of the project will begin in a day or so, as crews modify the remaining three spans of the bridge to create more overhead clearance to reduce the chances of a similar accident in the future. Officials say that work will be done at night and shouldn't cause major traffic headaches.

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.