It's not every day that a newspaper credits a state department of transportation for superb work, especially when it comes to bridge replacement. [Ask any Bay Area newspaper how they feel about the "11 years of construction and $6.4 billion taxpayer dollars" effort to replace the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge]. But The News Tribune did not hold back in praising the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) after the May 23, dramatic bridge collapse that snarled international traffic to and from Canada on I-5.
WSDOT’s response was magnificent. Almost immediately, it had temporary detours in place. Within days, it was assembling permits and pursuing plans to create a temporary span [reopening on June 18], a permanent replacement and a rebuild of the entire overhead support structure.
Last Sunday, Sept. 15, the 500-ton temporary bridge was swapped for "the new 900-ton permanent span, and the replacement bridge was open for business 66 days after the collapse. The final cost was well below the $15.6 million federal emergency grant, and the job was done more than two weeks before deadline," according to the editorial.
How did they accomplish this task so rapidly? The editors explain:
WSDOT streamlined the project with a design-build approach, which lets the contractor integrate engineering with construction. Recognizing the emergency, other agencies — including the Coast Guard, Department of Ecology, Federal Highway Administration, Army Corps of Engineers — fast-tracked a plethora of environmental permits and approvals.
The newspaper did manage to get some digs into the paper, as one might expect from the fourth estate.
WSDOT is currently getting pilloried — and rightfully so — for design errors that are requiring more than $200 million in repairs to pontoons on the Highway 520 floating bridge over Lake Washington. But the Skagit bridge project shows that the department is capable of extreme competency in a pinch.
The editorial ends on a timely, suggestive note: "Transportation money would be much easier to come by in Washington if citizens knew their tax dollars would always be spent with so much efficiency and success." The legislative season ended in July with no transportation funding plan passed - due, perhaps ironically, to another, far bigger bridge on I-5: The Columbia River Crossing, that is also in need of replacement. Gov. Jay Inslee may wish to cite this editorial in his current push to pass a transportation budget.