As repairs continue, bill would rename bridge for fallen trooper

As repairs continue, bill would rename bridge for fallen trooper
Temporary bridge starting to take shape. (Photo: WSDOT Flickr Page)
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. - As work on the temporary bridge to span the Skagit River along I-5 is starting to take shape, a trio of state lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would rename the bridge in honor of the State Patrol trooper who died Friday while directing traffic around the detour.

The resolutions in the state House and Senate ask the State Transportation Commission to rename the bridge the "Trooper #1076, Sean M. O'Connell Memorial Bridge."

O'Connell, a 16-year State Patrol veteran, was directing traffic Friday evening on a detour around the collapsed bridge when he was struck by another vehicle.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, along with Reps. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, and Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.

"Renaming the bridge in Officer O'Connell's honor is just a small token of our gratitude for his 16 years of dedication to our state," the three said in joint statement. "But it doesn't even begin to display the level of appreciation all Washingtonians have for his service or the heartache and compassion we feel for his family in the wake of his loss."

Meanwhile, while the National Transportation Safety Board has not yet finished its site investigation, a contractor has started assembling a temporary span that can be rolled into position to replace the collapsed section, DOT spokesman Travis Phelps said.

Clearing and investigating debris from the bottom of the river is slow-going.

"Portions of the bridge are buried in about four feet of mud that's under the bridge that's under water," Phelps said.

Investigators are documenting components as they are removed from the river, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said Monday in an email.

A 160-foot section of the bridge crumbled May 23 when a truck carrying an oversize load hit a girder. The truck made it off the bridge but two vehicles went into the water and three people were rescued.

An NTSB investigator traveled to the headquarters of Mullen Trucking in Aldersyde, Alberta, to gather information about the truck that was carrying the oversize load, the NTSB said.

If the company is negligent, the state could make a claim to recover damages, Phelps said. The temporary span and a replacement this fall will cost about $15 million. The federal government is paying most of that.

Traffic is detoured through Mount Vernon and Burlington until a temporary bridge is in place. The span carried an average of 71,000 vehicles a day on the main route between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.