What Does the I-5 Skagit Bridge Collapse Mean for Cross-Border Commerce?

By: Elliott Smith
The collapse of the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge on May 23, 2013 made international news headlines. Miraculously, nobody was seriously injured, but Western North America’s main artery of commerce was severed. What will this mean for Canada/US Trade until the bridge is restored? It’s hard to know for sure, but one thing is clear: the corridor is crucial to cross-border business.
Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute has done excellent work analyzing the importance of the corridor to international trade. Their data illustrates just how critical this route is to North American commerce. According to the BPRI, the Blaine Port of Entry on the I-5 corridor is the most important Port of Entry on the Canada/US Border west of the Rockies. The Port handles approximately $15 Billion annually in two-way trade via truck and rail: “Blaine…accommodate(s) trade flows along the West Coast Corridor, but Blaine also handles significant Asia-Pacific Gateway trade flowing through Vancouver.” In 2008, approximately 30% of that commerce through Blaine traveled by truck, and virtually all of those trucks traveled on I-5.
Clearly, a gap in this critical artery has the potential to be disastrous for Canada/US Trade. Fortunately, early signs suggest that the Skagit Bridge situation is not having a catastrophic impact on the flow of international commerce.

I-5 Skagit Bridge
This aerial photo, courtesy of WSDOT, shows the collapsed I-5 bridge, and one of the    remaining in-tact secondary bridges carrying detour traffic.

Travel delays through the detour routes are minimal, Washington State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson reported in a May 29 conference call. Peterson was joined by 40th District legislators Representatives Jeff Morris and Kris Lytton and Senator Kevin Ranker. Peterson added that FedEx is tracking delays encountered by their trucks, and the data, which they are voluntarily sharing with WSDOT is promising. The extra traffic on the city streets and county roads in the vicinity of the bridge is certainly bothersome for local residents and business owners, and Peterson and local legislators expressed sympathy for that issue. Funding will be available to local governments to restore pavement damaged by the heavy traffic on city and county roads once the bridge is restored.
UCanTrade, Inc. President Jim Pettinger says that their clients will not experience any major impact from the bridge collapse: “UCanTrade is not expecting any significant disruption in service for our clients. The professional drivers employed by our trusted shipping partners are navigating the Skagit County detours and getting their deliveries to customers with minimal delays. In some cases, time-sensitive shipments may be upgraded to air shipment from Bellingham International Airport. UCT has almost three decades of experience in custom logistics, and our highly-skilled staff are working with clients to ensure that business continues uninterrupted by the Skagit Bridge situation.”
TradeTips blog is published by UCanTrade, Inc., your cross-border experts since 1984.
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