The collapse of a bridge on a major West Coast highway could cost the state of Washington at least $47 million in lost economic output, as well lost jobs and tax revenues similar to the impact of a flood five years ago that also shut down another section of the road, officials said Friday.
Brian Bonlender, director of the State Department of Commerce, said it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact economic impact because it depends on how long the road is out of service, how much traffic was disrupted and delayed by detour routes.
But, based on a flood in 2007 that washed out a section of Interstate 5 in Chehalis and closed Interstate-5 in both directions for four days, he was able to estimate economic losses from Thursday's Skagit River Bridge collapse.
"We're still calculating, but certainly expect the impact of the Skagit River Bridge disruption to be similar," Bonlender said in comments e-mailed to NBC News.
He said total lost economic output from the 2007 floods was $47.07 million, with 290 jobs lost for one year following the closure. The state tax revenue loss was $2.39 million.
Bonlender also noted that Canada is Washington's No. 2 trading partner ($33.4 billion total imports and exports). It was important to determine how feasible it is to switch some traffic to rail from road, he said.
The bridge collapse will also play havoc with commercial traffic and disrupt the Memorial Day holiday for many Americans who plan to spend the start of the summer season shopping, camping, or taking excursions.
The bridge carries an estimated 71,000 vehicles each day. Approximately 11 percent of those are commercial vehicles transporting goods between the U.S. and Canada.
Trucks and traffic from Interstate 5 have been rerouted and Gov. Jay Inslee has urged travelers to avoid the I-5 corridor in the area north of Seattle altogether. That means local businesses will suffer too, as many rely on customers from the main north-south highway.
On the other side of the border, Canadian tourism officials were also concerned that Thursday's bridge collapse would prevent Americans from traveling across the border for a last weekend of skiing, a day's mountain biking or a round of golf.
All this on a holiday, when the AAA motoring organization estimates that nearly 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from their homes by car.
Bob Lama, a board member of the Chamber of Commerce in Mount Vernon, Wash., said the collapse will affect not just local traffic, but Canadians coming south and Americans going north.
"It's going to impact everybody, business and non-business," Lama told The Seattle Times. "The Department of Transportation has their work cut out for them to figure out what to do.''