Traffic is rolling across the repaired Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday morning, marking the end of a hasty, round-the-clock salvage and reconstruction job.
Work started less than four weeks ago, when an oversize load brought down the vital bridge. Northwest Washington drivers and businesses are relishing a return to normal.
The past three weeks have been quiet, way too quiet in the showroom of Foothills Toyota Scion in Burlington, just north of the Skagit River. The bridge collapse and then the congested detour routes scared off customers here and at many other area businesses.
So dealership owner Pam Nelson says the re-opening of the freeway bridge for cars and trucks is like music to her ears.
"I’m shocked it’s so quick," she says. "But I’m ecstatic. Everybody is going to be ecstatic."
Nelson is hopeful the sales she missed in late May and early June can be recaptured. "We’re hoping the floodgates open, so to speak."
To help accomplish that, a regional marketing campaign launched this week. It’s paid for with state emergency reserves and is designed to let travelers know traffic is flowing again. The campaign includes television ads on stations in Seattle and British Columbia.
The replacement bridge across the Skagit River is only a temporary fix. Next, construction starts on a permanent replacement.
Getting this far is the important part, says Don Wick, who directs the Economic Development Association of Skagit County.
Wick says having the freeway reconnected should stop the bleeding.
"There’s been a lot of damage to local businesses here, the local retail community," he says. "We’ve met with numerous businesses. We’re hopeful the SBA will declare this a disaster and that low interest loans from the SBA will be made available."
SBA stands for the federal Small Business Administration. Washington Governor Jay Inslee says at the moment, he is not optimistic about obtaining additional relief.
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