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In with the new: Permanent I-5 Skagit River Bridge replacement opens to traffic

Crews completed the bridge move during a 19-hour detour of traffic.

During a carefully choreographed series of activities, crews slid and lowered the new, permanent span for the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge into its final location and reopened the roadway to traffic around 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, according to the Washington Department of Transportation.

Starting Saturday evening, contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation used a complex system of hydraulic jacks, Teflon pads and long steel rails to lift and move the two sections of the temporary span onto a work platform for disassembly. Then they used a similar set-up to usher the new, 900-ton concrete span into place.

To minimize the community impacts of a lengthier I-5 closure, WSDOT contractor Max J. Kuney Company worked closely with designer Parsons Brinckerhoff, bridge-mover Omega Morgan and several specialized subcontractors to swap the spans safely in 19 hours. Although crews encountered some complications along the way – including the time-consuming process of cutting through thick metal plates before being able to lift the temporary span – they still finished building and relocating the bridge more than two weeks before WSDOT’s Oct. 1 deadline.

“I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of the entire team who worked on this bridge,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “This is an effort we can all be very proud of. I also want to thank the residents and businesses in the Skagit Valley. I know this caused significant disruptions for many, but people remained patient and optimistic and we pulled through. We now have the permanent bridge in place and Skagit Valley is open for business.”

The contractor team overcame numerous hurdles since starting work on the permanent span in mid-June, including a demanding schedule, complex and overlapping activities and wet weather. They worked days, nights and weekends to build the new span in 66 days, hitting a major milestone in mid-August with the setting of eight enormous concrete girders to support the new roadway. Their next steps will be to remove equipment and temporary platforms from the riverbed, with all work on this portion of the bridge replacement project expected to wrap up in early October.

“The I-5 Skagit bridge is an economic lifeline for the region,” said Congresswoman Suzan DelBene. “Due to the tremendous effort by local, state and federal agencies working around the clock, we now have the permanent structure in place. I want to commend the local community and businesses for coping with very difficult circumstances this summer. Today, with the permanent bridge span completed and open, we’re one step closer to getting the region’s economy moving at full speed.”

Next steps
Now that the permanent bridge span is complete, a new phase of construction will soon begin. Drivers should expect additional nighttime detours of one or both directions of I-5 at the Skagit River Bridge beginning Monday, Sept. 16, and continuing through mid-November. The detours will give contractor crews the space they need to begin retrofitting the overhead bridge supports.

A portion of the I-5 bridge collapsed into the Skagit River in Burlington Thursday, May 23, after a semi-truck struck critical steel supports. This section of I-5 carries 71,000 vehicles each day. The I-5 Skagit River Bridge reopened to traffic on June 19, after contractor crews installed temporary spans.

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