Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson told a telephone town hall Wednesday night that work can begin as soon as the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its site investigation, The Skagit Valley Herald reported.
A section of the bridge collapsed May 23 after a girder was struck by an oversize load on a truck. Traffic is detoured through Mount Vernon and Burlington, creating a roadblock on the main trade and tourism route between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C..
Kelly Nantel of the NTSB said Thursday that it had no information to release on when its investigation would be complete. An interview with the driver of a pilot car for the truck had been scheduled Wednesday but had to be rescheduled.
"They need to release the site to us and we need to get in the water and inspect the piers and see what shape they're in," state Transportation Department spokeswoman Abbi Russell said from Shoreline. "If they're sound we can start looking at what the temporary structure will look like."
Work is continuing with all possible speed. Divers worked overnight Wednesday in cold murky water to remove jagged pieces of the fallen bridge deck. Some girders still under water have to be preserved for NTSB inspectors, she said.
Work will continue through the weekend. Some piece of the temporary structure can be assembled off-site and rolled into place later.
The temporary bridge will replace the 160-foot section that fell into the water. That will reopen two lanes in each direction. A permanent replacement this fall should restore the bridge.
Federal money is paying for the temporary span and 91 percent of the replacement. But there are no plans for a new and improved bridge to replace the 58-year-old structure. Peterson told the Mount Vernon teleconference that there are a lot more bridges in Washington in worse shape.
Meanwhile, traffic delays are easing on the detours around the fallen bridge, which carried 71,000 vehicles a day.
"People are getting into a routine," Russell said. "We still have backups here and there." Afternoons seem a little more congested than mornings, she said.
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