By Gale Fiege Herald Writer
MOUNT VERNON — Traffic moved steadily across the temporary fix to the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River early Wednesday morning, bringing relief to business owners and people who live in the area.
Less than a month after a span of the bridge collapsed and dumped three people into the cold river, crews reopened the bridge. The two southbound lanes opened about 4:40 a.m. and the northbound lanes opened about 5:50 a.m.
State troopers were on hand to enforce the 40 mph speed limit and the ban on big rigs with oversized loads.
Detours signs in Mount Vernon and Burlington were still up at mid-morning, but traffic on city streets around the bridge was moving well and without the congestion common during the I-5 bridge closure, which collapsed May 23.
At North Cove Coffee in Burlington on Wednesday morning, barista Rhaelynn Givens said all her regular customers were showing up.
“I’m happy that it feels like a normal day here,” she said.
Jason Becktel who lives on the main detour route, also was pleased.
“I’ve been trying not to go into Mount Vernon. I couldn’t even take a left into my driveway. The bridge opening is friggin’ awesome,” he said. “I’m way happy. I took me 45 minutes to go to the grocery store. That traffic just sucked.”
At Riverside Health Club in Mount Vernon, club owner Denise Skelton said she is relieved to have the bridge open for the summer.
“Despite the bad traffic, I think most people in Skagit County had a positive attitude,” Skelton said. “It was amazing that the state got the bridge open as fast as they did. We are all very thankful.”
During the detour around the bridge, small shops along the route saw a big drop in business, said Lisa Ley at Darren’s Donuts in Mount Vernon.
“We started making a lot fewer doughnuts when we noticed that by late morning we were essentially done for the day,” Ley said. “Drivers didn’t want to lose their places in line on the street, so they stopped coming by.”
Micah Lewis, manager at Foothills Toyota in Burlington said the bridge closure made a dent in car sales and made it tough for his staff to even run out for a sandwich at lunchtime.
“We already are seeing more traffic at the dealership today,” Lewis said.
Lori Lehto of Oak Harbor drove over the bridge about 8 a.m. Wednesday on an errand for her office in Mount Vernon.
“I held my breath and gripped the steering wheel,” Lehto said. “But I also wished that some of the construction workers were still there so I could have waved at them to show my thanks.”
Max J. Kuney Construction of Spokane has been awarded the $6.9 million contract to build the permanent replacement span on the bridge. The contractor is expected to begin work this week and have the finished section ready for installation after Labor Day weekend, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Treece.
“We worked hard to get people moving safely and efficiently,” Treece said. “We believe the next closure in September will be for less than two weeks. We’re at halftime now, but there is a lot more work to do.”
Since the I-5 is an interstate freeway, federal funds covered the cost of the temporary fix and will cover about 90 percent of the permanent repair.
Along with the 40 mph speed limit, drivers should be aware that each direction of the temporary span is narrower, and has been reduced from two 12-foot lanes with 3-foot shoulders, to two 11-foot lanes with 1-foot shoulders, the state Department of Transportation said in a press release. Freight haulers carrying legal loads won’t be detoured off I-5, but oversized or overweight loads must exit and use the marked detour route.
Information about driving conditions and the ongoing project is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/SkagitRiverBridgeReplacement. People without computer access can call 511.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.