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Transportation leaders not sure bridge collapse necessitates more maintenance money

Post by Melissa Santos / The Olympian on May 24, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
May 28, 2013 10:53 am
Workers look over a collapsed portion of the Interstate 5 bridge as a bucket lift is positioned at the Skagit River Friday, May 24, 2013, in Mount Vernon, Wash. A truck carrying an oversize load struck the four-lane bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River below Thursday evening. All three occupants suffered only minor injuries. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Workers look over a collapsed portion of the Interstate 5 bridge as a bucket lift is positioned at the Skagit River Friday, May 24, 2013, in Mount Vernon, Wash. A truck carrying an oversize load struck the four-lane bridge on the major thoroughfare between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the span and two vehicles into the Skagit River below Thursday evening. All three occupants suffered only minor injuries. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A truck hit a bridge, causing it to fall into a river.

That’s all there was to Thursday’s bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Skagit County, said state Sen. Curtis King, the Republican co-chair of the state Senate transportation committee.

Describing the bridge failure as “an accident,” King said that it doesn’t mean that there needs to be a knee-jerk reaction in the Legislature to pour more money into bridge maintenance. That’s a separate issue, he said.

“Believe me, if we had two of these bridges that went down on their own without some kind of an incident happening, we’d be all over it,” said King, who is from Yakima. “But there was an incident. And it caused the bridge to go down.”

State Rep. Judy Clibborn, the Democratic chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, said she “would not be surprised if we didn’t have some reprioritization toward bridges” as lawmakers debate a transportation revenue package this month.

But even if lawmakers do choose to earmark more money for bridge repair, that funding may not go toward bridges like the one that failed Thursday, she said.

“We have here a bridge that was not dangerous, it was an older design,” said Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “We checked it every year, it was fine. But it was susceptible to being clipped.”

“I think we need more information,” Clibborn said. “Definitely , I’m not ready to run out and replace all the bridges that were built in 1955.”

King’s transportation co-chair, Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide of Des Moines, took a different stance in a press release she sent out Friday. Eide co-authored a statement with state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, saying that the Skagit River bridge collapse “should be a wake-up call to the Legislature.”

“We cannot delay any longer in moving forward a long-term investment strategy to meet our state’s infrastructure demands, which include upgrading hundreds of bridges all across Washington just as old as the this one,” Eide and Ranker’s joint statement said. “We need to ensure that our existing bridges are well maintained, well preserved and meet or exceed safety standards so this never happens again.”

Lawmakers are in the middle of deciding a state budget, and also are weighing an $8.5 billion transportation revenue package proposed by House Democrats. The House Democrats’ plan would spend $900 million on maintaining and repairing transportation infrastructure.

King said that’s too little – out of $8.5 billion, $900 million toward maintenance doesn’t scream “priority,” he said.

“If you’re concerned about the bridges and the roads and their deterioration, what we need to look at is how and where are we spending our money,” King said.

Clibborn said that her caucus is proposing more money for road maintenance than lawmakers have budgeted in years.

“This package does step up to the plate and do that,” Clibborn said.

Lawmakers are scheduled to finish a 30-day special session June 11, but could go longer if they don’t reach a deal on the state budget by then.

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