Divers removing sunken I-5 Skagit River bridge

May 31, 2013 • Business

Steel beams are removed from the water in Mount Vernon, Wash., Tuesday, May 28, 2013 following the collapse of a section of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River last week. (AP Pho[auth] to/The Seattle Times, Ellen M. Banner)

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — Divers probably have a couple more days of work to remove the collapsed section of the Interstate 5 bridge from the bottom of the Skagit River, the Washington Transportation Department said Friday.

It’s slow work, using heavy equipment to break up the pavement in cold, murky water, spokesman Travis Phelps said.

Workers also have to take care to preserve girders the National Transportation Safety Board needs for its investigation of the May 23 accident.

When the NTSB clears the site, the state Transportation Department will inspect the piers. If they’re OK, a contractor can fill in the collapsed section with a temporary 160-foot span.

The department is still on track to reopen two lanes of the freeway in each direction by mid-June, Phelps said from an office in Shoreline.

The bridge segment crumbled when a girder was struck by an oversize load on a truck. The truck made it off the bridge, but two other vehicles carrying three people went into the river. All three people were able to escape as their vehicles filled with frigid water. They were rescued with minor injuries.

Workers with Acrow Bridges are doing as much as they can until the site is released by the NTSB. They are assembling portions of the temporary span on land and are preparing to roll it into place, Phelps said.

The NTSB has interviewed the drivers of both vehicles that went into the water and interviews with other witnesses continue, the agency said Friday in an email update. An agency investigator has also traveled to the Alberta, Canada, headquarters of Mullen Trucking to gather information on the trucking company’s safety history, training process, maintenance procedures and records.

The bridge was used by 71,000 vehicles a day. While the bridge is out, traffic is detoured through Mount Vernon and Burlington, causing delays for trucks and tourists traveling between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The department plans to replace the temporary span and restore the bridge in the fall. There are no plans for an all-new structure to replace the 58-year-old bridge.

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