By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
MOUNT VERNON — The state has changed its recommended detour routes around the collapsed I-5 Skagit River Bridge to better move traffic through the area, a spokesman for the transportation department said.
After part of the I-5 bridge collapsed Thursday evening, the state pointed drivers to Highway 9, located east of I-5, as a primary detour route.
That highway, however, is tight and curvy in places, said Bart Treece, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
“Highway 9 is great for passenger cars, not so much for freight,” he said.
The state is working with Skagit County and local cities on the detours, Treece said. The nearest bridge to I-5, only about a quarter mile to the east, is Riverside Drive. The span was built in 2003 and can handle trucks, Treece said.
Initially, in recommending Highway 9, “we didn’t want to jam up Mount Vernon and Burlington with extra traffic,” Treece said. “But in this case it seemed to make sense to route people to the new bridge.”
Riverside Drive runs parallel to I-5 and connects to College Way in Mount Vernon south of the river and George Hopper Road in Burlington to the north — the two exits where drivers are being routed off I-5.
Riverside Drive is now listed as the state’s primary recommended detour for both northbound and southbound drivers.
An alternate route for northbound drivers involves taking Highway 536 westbound to Highway 20, then eastbound back to I-5.
The suggested alternate route for southbound drivers takes them on Highway 20, Avon Allen Road and Highway 536 to I-5.
Of course, there are many other ways around the mess and Highway 9 is still an option, Treece said. The routes listed above will be marked with signs and are posted on the transportation department’s website.
“They’re designed for folks that maybe are not as familiar with the area,” transportation spokeswoman Annie Johnson said. “The best thing for folks to do if they’re heading that direction is to check our website for the latest detours.”
Also, to provide another alternative, Amtrak Cascades plans to add a round-trip train between Seattle and Bellingham in the coming weeks.
Amtrak is working with the state, BNSF Railway and Sound Transit to free up tracks for the additional train run. The train would depart Seattle in the morning and from Bellingham in the early evening.
Amtrak Cascades currently runs two round-trips per day between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. The trains travel over the Skagit River Rail Bridge located east of I-5 and Riverside Drive. Amtrak Cascades Thruway buses add 10 more trips through the area. For more information visit www.AmtrakCascades.com or call 800-USA-RAIL.
Meanwhile, it’s still yet to be determined when the bridge might be repaired. A 160-foot chunk at the north end of the bridge fell into the river after the beams were hit by a southbound truck.
Two cars and three people went into the river along with that section of bridge. All made it out with nothing more than minor injuries.
The state has hired an emergency contractor, Atkinson Construction, to do the work when the time comes, Treece said. The company is based in Colorado and has an office in Renton.
Thursday’s incident was the second time the bridge had been struck by a vehicle in the past six months, according to the transportation department.
The bridge was hit last November on the south end of the northbound side — the opposite end from where it was hit on Thursday, Treece said.
The bridge was declared safe following that inspection, he said. It was the second inspection last year for the bridge, which also passed its routine inspection in August. The state’s bridges are inspected every two years, he said. The bridge was built in 1955.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.