Crews continue work to remove debris from collapsed bridge

SEATTLE - Crews have begun removing the mangled steel, crumpled pavement and cars that fell into the Skagit River in Mount Vernon after the I-5 bridge collapsed Friday. The Washington Department of Transportation announced Monday that the retrieval of the fallen section began, a day after barges with equipment arrived at the river.

The department says the fallen section has to be removed before final inspections of the spans still standings can begin.

First, the vehicles came out, starting with the orange crossover SUV. It'll be part of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation in case it can shed light on exactly how the bridge came down.

Meanwhile, on the bridge itself, inspectors were taking a very close look at the bent vertical strut that was likely also hit by the truck -- a key portion of the remaining part of the bridge. But as engineers look at every inch of the rest of the bridge, they are still certain it is safe.

"Any damaged parts, I'm sure, are going to be replaced," said WSDOT spokesman Dave Chesson, adding their engineers don't think it's going to threaten the entire structure but that's where his eight-man crew will keep their focus.

"We're not only looking at the damage caused by this collision but we're looking at everything that has to do with this bridge," he said. "Kind of taking the opportunity while it's closed to look at anything that might need repair, and that could be as small as a pothole."

WSDOT officials reiterated they expect to have two temporary spans in place by mid-June so traffic can resume with a permanent replacement span by September.

It can't come soon enough to the local businesses whose customer bases dwindled with the traffic mess.

"I've lost half my revenue right now," said Angela Walden, Co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

Walden, whose business resides at the Burlington Outlet Mall, says when the Skagit Bridge collapsed so did her sales. What should be her third busiest holiday weekend of the year is a bust. Revenue is down by 50 percent, and so are employee-hours.

"I can't pay them to be here, their hours are cut that's my biggest concern are my employees," Walden said.

A surprise visit Sunday from Gov. Jay Inslee gave business a boost, but more than that she hopes others will follow Inslee's lead.

"Skagit County is open for business," Inslee said.

In Mount Vernon, the kitchen at the Calico Cupboard Caf and Bakery should be bustling, but it's not. Instead of the usual holiday waiting list, there are empty tables. Business was down by 25 percent on Monday.

The manager at Calico and dealers at Conway's antique store think traffic is keeping customers away.

"When it backs up, people get afraid to turn into town because they're afraid they won't be able to get back on," said Cheri Henry with Curious Goods Antique Store.

Henry says they've lost Canadian business but the trade-of was worth it.

"We have all the patience in in the world because nobody died, that's the most important," she said.

The DOT is still warning drivers to add in an extra hour to get where they are going if they have to go through the bridge detours.