Orcutt points out most of the 1-5 Skagit River bridge still standing

State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, received national attention earlier this year when he said bicyclists contribute to climate change by breathing heavily and therefore emitting carbon dioxide into the air. He later apologized for his comments.

Now transportation funding advocates say he’s made another gaffe. In an email response to a liberal group’s request that he support updating the state’s roads and bridges, Orcutt reportedly wrote: “The (Interstate 5 Skagit River) bridge would indeed be standing today had the truck’s load NOT rammed the super structure of the bridge. In fact, 11 of the 12 sections of the bridge are still standing.”

Always look on the bright side of life?

The Stranger’s blog criticized the 11-out-of-12 comment as “defiantly pointing to the 11 sections of the bridge left standing as a shining example of a state transportation system well funded. The problem is, 92 percent of a bridge isn’t a bridge. And as a result, an I-5 corridor missing just 8 percent of one span is no longer a corridor.”

Here is the entire text of Orcutt’s email response, according to The Stranger’s blog:

Many people have misunderstood terminology used in the aftermath of the I-5/Skagit River Bridge collapse.

This bridge is deemed functionally obsolete — not structurally deficient. Functionally obsolete basically means that the width of the lanes do not meet current design widths. In other words, if it were to be built today, it would need to be wider.

Since the incident, I have been on a conference call with the Governor (which included WSDOT and WSP officials); two briefing calls with National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials; and have met with NTSB officials on the deck of the bridge. From NTSB to WSDOT, it is clear that the reason for the collapse was due to a collision with the super structure of the bridge — not a lack of structural integrity of the bridge. The bridge would indeed be standing today had the truck’s load NOT rammed the super structure of the bridge. In fact, 11 of the 12 sections of the bridge are still standing.

It is important to note also, that DOT has specifically stated that if a bridge were deemed unsafe, it would be taken out of service. So, when you approach a bridge and see that it is open, please know that DOT has deemed it safe enough for the traffic using it.

I agree with you that we must maintain our infrastructure to assure it remains safe, but let’s not confuse this incident or try to use it to leverage more tax dollars when the cause of this collapse had nothing to do with the availability of tax dollars.

Orcutt is correct in saying that the Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5 was not listed as structurally deficient. It was, however, listed as “fracture critical,” a label it shares with the I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River. Fracture critical means if one crucial part of the bridge sustains a big enough blow, the bridge could collapse. Oregon transportation officials say the I-5 Columbia River bridge is still safe to drive on.

Orcutt represents the state’s 20th Legislative District, which dips into northern parts of Clark County. He is the ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee.

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu is a political writer at The Columbian. Contact her at 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.

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