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Originally published May 24, 2013 at 1:24 PM | Page modified May 27, 2013 at 3:33 PM

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Officials explore use of temporary, portable bridge as quick fix

If the remaining parts of the Interstate 5 bridge that collapsed into the Skagit River are sound, a temporary Bailey bridge that could be moved there or built on-site might be used.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Anatomy of the failed bridge

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Gov. Jay Inslee said state officials are trying to determine whether a portable structure called a Bailey bridge could be used as a quick fix to deal with Thursday’s collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River.

Inslee said Friday that transportation leaders are talking with agencies around the country to see if such a structure is available and could be moved to this state — or constructed on the site — to use while a longer-term bridge replacement is pursued.

A section of the span collapsed into the river after a southbound truck hauling an oversized load struck an overhead bridge girder. Two vehicles, a pickup and an SUV, plunged into the river. The three people in those vehicles were rescued, suffering only minor injuries.

A Bailey bridge would likely be usable only if inspections show the piers under the remaining section of bridge are sound.

Inslee said permanent replacement of the bridge could cost $15 million.

He offered no timetable for a short-term fix or permanent solution, but said he hopes to know in the next couple of days whether a temporary solution is feasible.

“Patience is going to be the watchword,” he said.

Joined at a news conference by Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, Inslee pledged to work to “restore this artery of commerce and economic growth in our state” as quickly as possible.

Approximately 70,000 vehicles cross the bridge on a typical day.

The governor praised emergency agencies and first responders for a “tremendous display of maritime rescue” in reaching and saving the three people who were in vehicles that crashed into the river when the bridge section fell about 7 p.m. Thursday.

Inslee declared a state of emergency in Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, noting that the highway is a main conduit through Northwest Washington, and its closure — for a “significant period” — will adversely affect state residents and the area’s economy.

Inslee said the state has activated an emergency-operations center to help local officials ease the impacts of the bridge collapse.

Also at the Friday news conference, state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said she does not believe a “structural deficiency” was at fault in the collapse. She said the bridge fell because of where and how it was hit.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday said he has authorized $1 million in emergency funding to begin dealing with the loss of the bridge. Additional funding is expected.

Quick fix used by military

Bailey bridges, named for World War II-era British engineer Donald Bailey, have been used extensively by the military.

The structures can be configured rapidly from “a pre-engineered system of ready-to-assemble components,” according to the website of Alabama-based Bailey Bridges.

Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, arrived in Mount Vernon on Friday, saying her agency’s investigators will look for the cause of the collapse and may make recommendations on preventing such a collapse in the future.

Expressing dismay over what happened to the bridge, Hersman said, “That is not what we expect.”

Hersman said the board will document damage to the structure and share safety information with the state. But the board does not serve as the bridge operator, and it is up to the state to determine the appropriate fix, she said.

Hersman said the design of the bridge, which was built in 1955, is “very common” for that period.

“It is showing its age,” she said, noting that today’s design standards require more stringent traffic and safety features.

Oversized load

State Patrol Trooper Mark Francis said the driver of the truck that struck the bridge works for Mullen Trucking, based in Alberta, Canada, according to The Associated Press. The tractor-trailer was hauling drilling equipment to Vancouver, Wash., he said.

The top right front corner of the load struck several trusses on the north end of the bridge, he said.

An accident report identified the driver as William Scott, of Spruce Grove, Alberta, near Edmonton. He voluntarily gave a blood sample for an alcohol test and was not arrested.

The trucking company said it received a state permit to carry its oversized load across the bridge, a fact confirmed by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

It’s not rare for trucks to strike bridges in Washington state — it’s just that such accidents don’t usually cause the structures to collapse.

The state DOT said there were 21 bridge-strikes involving trucks last year, 24 in 2011 and 14 in 2010.

Officials performed a special inspection six months ago of the bridge that collapsed because there were indications it had been struck by a different vehicle.

A report released Friday says the checkup was done due to “impact damage,” and inspectors identified tears, deformations and gouges on the northbound side of the bridge. The report also summarizes a variety of parts on the bridge that have been subjected to “high-load” hits.

State officials did not respond to a phone call seeking more detail.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com. Information from The Associated Press is included.

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