SEATTLE (AP) — It's going to take time to find both short- and long-term fixes for the bridge that collapsed on Interstate 5, Washington state officials said Saturday as federal inspectors scoured for clues that may impact bridge safety across the nation.
First, the National Transportation and Safety Board must finish its inspection. Then debris will be removed from the river. Next, a temporary solution will be put in place to return traffic to Washington state's most important north-south roadway.
Inspectors are working to find out whether the disintegration on Thursday of the heavily used span over the Skagit River, 60 miles north of Seattle and 40 miles south of the Canadian border, was a fluke or a sign of bigger problems.
"These things take time. We want to make sure it's done right, done thoroughly," Washington Transportation Department spokesman Bart Treece said.
A trucker was hauling a load of drilling equipment Thursday evening when his load bumped against the steel framework over the bridge. He looked in his rearview mirror and saw the span collapse into the water behind him.
Two vehicles fell into the chilly river. The three people in those vehicles were not seriously hurt.
Motorists should not expect to drive onI-5 between Mount Vernon and Burlington for many weeks and possibly months, Treece said.
Treece asked people to plan for an extra hour to make their way through detours around the collapsed bridge. There are three detour options northbound and two options southbound.
About 71,000 vehicles use that stretch of highway every day. Late Saturday morning, traffic was moving freely through the detours.
"We're expecting it to get worse as the day progresses," Treece said, noting that at 11 a.m. cloudy skies and cool weather could be keeping Memorial Day weekend travelers at home.
State transportation officials began working on both a temporary solution and a permanent fix within hours of the bridge collapse, he said.
The goal is to get I-5 open as quickly as possible, while making sure the solution is as safe as possible, he added.
Officials were looking for a temporary, pre-fabricated bridge to replace the 160-foot section that failed, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday. That option could be in place in weeks. Otherwise, it could be months before a replacement can be built, the governor said.
Inslee said it will cost $15 million to repair the bridge. The federal government has promised $1 million in emergency dollars and more money could come later, according to Washington's congressional delegation.
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