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As the Skagit River Bridge collapse wreaks havoc with both travel plans and commerce, WSDOT is working to add another temporary Cascades round trip to Bellingham:

To assist travelers affected by yesterday’s I-5 highway bridge collapse in Skagit County, Amtrak Cascades will add one round trip route between Seattle and Bellingham, Wash., in the coming weeks.

Amtrak, the Washington State Department of Transportation, BNSF Railway and Sound Transit are working together to add this service, a morning departure from Seattle to Bellingham with an early evening return, to help those who normally drive this route. More details will be released as they become available.

WSDOT spokesperson Laura Kingman says that none of the details beyond the excerpt above are final, although more resolution may come this week.

If there’s a silver lining to this debacle it’s the extra train and the fact that there were no serious injuries. Spin aside, the argument for more emphasis on maintenance is no stronger than it was before. No plausible level of maintenance spending would have replaced this bridge, and indeed the collapse will be used to justify massive freeway capacity expansion with a small sliver of safety improvements.

On the other hand, this is a rich state and we can afford to do both, just as it’s possible in principle to maintain decent bus service and build a rail system for future generations at the same time. It’s not  that capacity expansions are unaffordable; it’s that they’re bad for the future.

47 Replies to “WSDOT Seeking a Third Cascades Round Trip to Bellingham”

  1. First sorry you haven’t heard from me during Bridgegeddon yet, been physically ill with a kidney stone and a sinus infection.

    Second, I don’t get why WSDOT doesn’t just replace the I-5 bridge with a carbon copy of the Hwy 99 Bridge just upstream. Same four lanes, but with no height problems. No need to re-engineer everything either.

    Third, thank G*d for the Tri-County Connectors. Thanks for all that helped save them.

    Thanks for your reporting. Off hot.

      1. The Riverside Drive bridge is relatively new. I think it’s less than 10 years old. That picture is depressing because Burlington/MV is just ugly sprawl today…

      2. Yup, the new bridge came about in 2003.

        The sprawl came before the new bridge with the 1989 Cascade Mall.

      1. Thanks Mike. Means a lot, getting better.

        Going to brave Bridgeddon on Thursday it seems.

    1. Why replace the whole bridge when only one span is missing? The rest of the bridge isn’t great, but it still works.

      1. Lots of bridges could fall in the water if they were hit.

        Emergency funding won’t pay for the replacement of the remaining spans of the bridge nor could you get permits to do replace them under the emergency conditions being used to replace the missing span.

        There is a long list of bridges in this state in more urgent need of replacement or repair than the remaining spans of the Skagit River bridge.

      2. I’m with Paul here.

        Unless we’re going to replace every “fracture critical” bridge in the entire state, it makes zero sense to replace this one.

        There is nothing unique about the Skagit River Bridge. Every day, somewhere in Washington, a bridge like it takes a truck strike and (mostly by sheer luck) remains standing. Truck strikes on through truss bridges are an everyday occurrence and are rarely reported to anyone.

        Singling out this particular bridge for replacement does nothing except make people feel good, and ignores the larger problem.

        I would support a political movement to redirect some of the spending in that 8.7 billion dollar state highway bill to systematic replacement of all similar bridges. But not just for a single bridge that’s only unique for being in the news.

      3. “I would support a political movement to redirect some of the spending in that 8.7 billion dollar state highway bill to systematic replacement of all similar bridges. But not just for a single bridge that’s only unique for being in the news.”

        Me too. Which is what I’m saying.

      4. I agree. They could also consider retrofitting to strengthen some of the vulnerable connections, or adding overheight detectors before the bridge; either would be cheaper than replacing the entire thing.

        Keep in mind this bridge had a sufficiency rating considerably higher than a lot of other bridges in the state; it wasn’t one that was likely to be looked at for replacement any time soon.

  2. Now we just have to spend some money making sure that rail corridor stays open when the big rains come back in November/December

      1. Wow, John Carlson’s back at KVI! I thought they were playing oldies. What a surprise John, Amtrak does go to Mt. Vernon.

  3. Sound Transit issued a presser this morning that parrots what’s in the Amtrak news release. In the title of both, but not in the body, it states that ST equipment will be used for the added service.

    Anyone want to speculate on how it will work? Will they use a Tacoma train, and have it run through Seattle to provide the extra round trip? Will they use the Sounder platforms or the Amtrak through platform? They presumably need to add an Amtrak conductor to scan tickets; will they use an all Amtrak crew and Amtrak locomotives or an all BNSF operating crew with Amtrak on board just for OBS?

    It really doesn’t matter much one way or the other, but it does make one wonder how it will all work.

    1. Seems like what’s needed is two stone arches, shaped exactly like the truss portals, one for each direction, placed about a half mile upstream from truss span. It would be better for an oversize load to knock down a dummy span then to knock out the real one.

      1. Check out the site http://www.11foot8.com – it shows a lower-clearance railroad bridge that has been hit so many times they installed a steel beam across the road in front of it to absorb the impact…and have had to replace the beam at least once as well!

      2. Here’s an even lower-clearance bridge that’s local. I think it might have an improved clearance compared to the trestle that used to be here.

  4. While no level of maintenance funding would have replaced this bridge, adequate maintenance funding could have kept it from falling down in the first place. It was known to be vulnerable to exactly this failure mode. It was hit frequently, just not by cargo as damaging as the load that took it down. An inexpensive height gauge before the bridge, like any elevated parking garage has these days, would have been a trivial maintenance expenditure if we didn’t grossly underfund maintenance.

    1. One small correction, this bridge didn’t fall down it was knocked down. An Over-Height Vehicle Warning System would seem to be in WSDOT’s future. Too bad we had to learn the hard way instead of taking a clue from Oregon. Nah, that could never happen here.

      1. Such an overheight warning device is used on I-5 NB in Chehalis, so I guess it can happen here. But I’m unclear how this was supposed to prevent this bridge strike. After all, the oversize load had a pilot car that was supposed to warn of any problems. And they should have known exactly what the clearances were on any bridges they would cross before they started their trip anyway.

      2. A nationwide survey evaluating overheight/oversize warning systems:

        * Eight of 11 states deploying active overheight warning systems believe their systems reduce overheight loads striking infrastructure components.

        * The study found that even though data was anecdotal, the findings still merit consideration because results tended to be fairly uniform across the responding states with active warning systems.

        Flashing lights don’t prevent people from driving in front of trains but they’ve probably saved a lot more people from doing it.

      3. I’m unclear how this was supposed to prevent this bridge strike. After all, the oversize load had a pilot car that was supposed to warn of any problems.

        What I read a few days ago was that the pilot car’s height whip did contact the bridge, but the truck was following too close to the pilot car to respond in time.

        Of course, I can’t remember exactly where I read that, so consider it a rumor.

  5. a morning departure from Seattle to Bellingham with an early evening return, to help those who normally drive this route.

    WTF? Wouldn’t ya think the “normal” commuters would be coming into Seattle in the morning and going back north in the evening? News this morning was WSDOT hoped to have a temporary bridge in place by the middle of June and the replacement span done Sept/Oct time frame. Good thing there’s not a budget crises in Olympia or we wouldn’t be able to splurge on the B’ham Cannonball.

    1. Where would you park the train in Bellingham? Who would secure it? Service it?

      1. Same place they plan to park it while it sits idling all day I guess. But given the pathetic ridership of North Sounder I guess it doesn’t make much difference which direction you run an empty train. Traffic reports during today’s AM commute were a 15 minute delay due to the bridge closure.

      2. Before the night train was through-routed to Vancouver, they used to park the train in Bellingham off Cornwall just past Boulevard Park. Remember many nights picking up Talgo technicians in our hotel shuttle.

    2. I am confused about the morning departure too, since there’s already a train that leaves Seattle headed north at 7:40AM. Or, are they talking earlier AM, like 5 or 6? The southbound train in the early evening would be nice, since the train from Vancouver doesn’t leave Bellingham until almost 8PM and doesn’t get into Seattle until after 10PM.

      1. Since the plan evidently is to use ST equipment, I’d guess that they’d use a train that would otherwise sit in Seattle all day. Probably after it completes its the morning trip into Seattle, it would head up to Bellingham and return in the afternoon.

      2. The press release talks about an “early evening” return. Assuming that means arrival in Seattle in the early evening, they’re probably looking at using the trainset from Sounder 1512 (arrives SEA at 8:59) and having it back in time to use for Sounder 1513 (departs SEA at 17:12). There are two later departures at 17:40 and 18:15, but they use the trainsets from the reverse-peak trips in the afternoon.

        Scheduled travel time between Bellingham and Seattle is a bit over two hours without padding using Talgo equipment, but it would be slower with a Sounder trainset.

  6. The additional train may be nice for those who can afford it, but seriously, who can pay, what, $60 r.t., for a commute?
    Maybe once, but every day until the bridge is fixed?
    Even the Amtrak bus option to Bellingham is around $46.

    1. The train isn’t intended for a commute; the timing doesn’t work as a commuter train. But it might allow someoe who was planning a trip between Seattle (or Everrett or Mt. Vernon) and Bellingham to take it instead of driving. The added frequency may have some people shifting from the earlier train to this one and reducing the traffic on the detour route during rush hour.

      Clearly, the train doesn’t solve all the transportation problems caused by the bridge outage, but it may help with some of the congestion. And it gives folks who need to travel between Seattle and Bellingham another option.

      1. Somewhere down the road, I wish someone would consider some commuter train or bus from Mount Vernon to Seattle. For a time I commuted from MV to SEA. First I carpooled, then I drove to Stanwood P&R off I-5 at exit 212 and took the bus the rest of the way. When I did jury duty here in MV, everybody mentioned where they work, etc. and nearly a 1/4 of the room commuted to Seattle and back. I think you could see some good ridership on there. But I realize the costs would be pretty high to run it, but it’s nice to dream I guess.

      2. To make this a “Commuter Train” I would take one of the Seattle to Everett evening trains, and extend it to Mt. Vernon (or further) in the evening, and then have it return to Seattle in the morning with a timing that brings it through Everett to pickup the normal Everett to Seattle morning run.
        The posted schedule is defiantly not the schedule I would have selected. If ST/WSDOT went with a morning to Seattle, and evening From Seattle by extending one train set north from Everett, they could use it as a experiment to see what type of additional commuter load they could add to Sounder north.

      3. the train doesn’t solve all the transportation problems caused by the bridge outage

        To be more to the point, it doesn’t solve a single problem caused by the bridge outage. Anyone commuting that far, either direction, is traveling so early in the morning there is no problem to solve. Drove to B’ham this evening. Going up we hit the detour at 6PM. Took the alternate as I-5 was solid from exit 228. It’s the longer by a fair bit distance wise but all the trucks are required to take the standard detour at exit 229. Heavy but slightly better than stop and go until we got out of Mount Vernon then clear sailing at the speed limit the rest of the way. Added 25 minutes to the trip. Coming home from the concert it was around 10PM. Took the standard detour and it added about as much time as it would to stop at a rest stop for a pee break. As we were coming into B’ham the posted boarder wait times were 80 minutes at Blaine, 35 minutes at Sumas.

      4. Doesn’t solve a single problem? I guess the trains will be completely empty then. We’ll have to see if you’re right…

      5. If you split the ridership with the existing morning train from Seattle to Bellingham you’ve done nothing. Even if it increases ridership, which you’d hope doubling the frequency and cost would do the number of free ponies WSDOT gives away has no relationship to the backup on I-5. What fraction of an FTE to replace a rail planner position is the cost of spooling up this excursion train?

  7. And the need for the extra train is what? Apart from its relatively useless schedule, by the time it is up and running I-5 will be up and running with its replacement bridge, so the only vehicles required to detour will be trucks. How many semi drivers will ride on that train to nowhere? . . .

  8. Why does it need to take weeks to get the train started? They should have been able to start service within a few days.

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