SEATTLE — The federal government promised on Friday to send $1 million to Washington state to start fixing the collapsed Skagit River bridge and more cash may be on the way to cover repairs on the state’s main north-south roadway.
Gov. Jay Inslee estimated it will take about $15 million to fix the bridge. He said the federal government is also helping inspect the bridge and look for a temporary solution to get traffic moving again on Interstate 5.
The chairwoman of the state House’s Transportation Committee said lawmakers should be able to scrape together the rest of the money to quickly and safely repair the bridge.
“We don’t have an extra $15 million, but we might reprioritize around this,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island.
Meanwhile, Washington’s congressional delegation said there may be more federal dollars on the way thanks to a recent change in federal disaster law passed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Congress authorized in a special program from the Highway Trust Fund to repair or reconstruct federal highways and roads that have been seriously damaged because of a natural disaster or catastrophic failures from an external cause.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents the congressional district just north of the bridge, said that program could result in the federal government paying 90 percent of the cost to repair or replace the bridge and Washington state would only be responsible for 10 percent.
The state has a contingency fund and Clibborn said her committee could take money from the tax money it was planning to set aside for infrastructure maintenance and repairs.
Clibborn expressed concern, however, about whether it would be best to repair the bridge or rebuild it in a different, more modern way. She was unsure if federal emergency dollars would require them to put the bridge back exactly as it was before.
The state ran into a similar issue when it repaired a flood-damaged bridge in Centralia, she said.
Those worries would not delay bridge repair, Clibborn added, but would just be another issue to put on the table as state and federal officials discuss what to do.
“It is something we need to look at: What are the strings that come with this money,” Clibborn said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who represents the congressional district just south of the bridge, wasn’t immediately concerned about working through those issues. He said new federal transportation laws would ease the way.
Larsen talked to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Friday morning and he promised his full support to get the roadway repaired as quickly as possible.
“This bridge is an important economic lifeline. It’s not just about Skagit Valley’s economy, or Washington state’s economy. It’s about the West Coast economy and international trade,” Larsen said.
LaHood told Larsen he was sending his top engineer out to the site to help with the assessment. An interagency task force will expedite any federal permitting that needs to be done, he added.
When asked to estimate how long the repair could take, Larsen said it took 13 months to finish the eight-lane Interstate-35 West bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota after it collapsed in 2007.
“This is a much smaller project than that,” Larsen said, but it offers a big-picture estimate. “That doesn’t mean it won’t take longer or shorter,” he added.