EDITORIAL: Accident shows access is tenuous

Every once in awhile something happens on Deception Pass Bridge that reminds us just how tenuous is our grasp on access to the mainland.

Such an occurrence transpired Friday when a head-on collision on the two-lane roadway literally stopped traffic. For several hours, no one could drive onto or off the island as motorists waited impatiently for the debris to be cleared and the investigation finalized. It wasn’t until late that afternoon that traffic returned to its normal steady flow.

It does not take an unusually fertile imagination to come up with scenarios that would leave thousands of islanders stuck on the rock for days at a time. A large truck could lose control and structurally damage the bridge, or an earthquake could make it unusable. Terrorists could either blow it up or knock it down with an airplane. A major rock slide could destroy the bridge or block access for days.

In just a few hours Friday, islanders had to cancel doctor appointments in Anacortes and Mount Vernon, change shopping plans and call bosses to tell them they would be late for work. Imagine the turmoil if the closure were longer.

The bridge isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. There’s no other way east except the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry, which is an hour away and already running over its capacity during peak daytime hours. If anything happens to the bridge, North Whidbey residents will have to make midnight ferry trips to Mukilteo to buy groceries.

Right now there is no plan for a long-term Deception Pass Bridge solution. The state Department of Transportation recently study the alternatives and ruled them all out as too costly or environmentally insensitive. That’s not an answer we should accept, not when our link to the mainland and much of our commerce depends on two lanes of asphalt held up by some steel beams more than half a century old.

It’s time for some serious long-term transportation planning in Island County. We can’t remain at the mercy of this old bridge forever. Perhaps our state legislators can find some planning money in the billions that will flow in with the new 5 cent per gallon gasoline tax.

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