The number of Canadian shoppers venturing into Skagit and Snohomish county stores plummeted after the Skagit River bridge collapse.
The change was striking. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Marysville Costco had an 80 percent decrease in the proportion of Canadian license plates observed in its parking lot in June compared with a survey done in March, before the collapse.
That didn’t result in more Canadians packing the Bellingham Costco. The surveys showed roughly 75 percent of vehicles in that store’s parking lot had Canadian plates, which is typical.
The numbers come from a new study from Western Washington University. The Border Policy Research Institute released its initial results studying the travel habits of Canadians between the U.S. border crossing south on Interstate 5 to Marysville in March and in June.
The research done in June took place before the temporary bridge was installed at the Skagit River on Interstate 5, giving an idea of whether Canadians were traveling through the detour and continuing south toward Seattle.
A portion of the I-5 Skagit River bridge collapsed May 23 after being struck by an oversized truck. A detour was created around the bridge until a temporary structure was installed, reopening the bridge June 19.
The institute hired Western students to observe and write down the number of Canadian and U.S. vehicle license plates at more than 25 spots along the I-5 corridor and in Lynden. For the June survey, researchers calculated the proportion of Canadian license plates and compared it with March.
Five of the six retail areas surveyed south of the Skagit bridge experienced a decrease of more than 40 percent.
While a decrease in Canadian traffic at retail centers south of the Skagit bridge was expected, David Davidson was surprised by how much of a drop took place. Davidson, an associate director at the institute, said the survey provides an interesting snapshot on what happens when a key piece of transportation infrastructure is disrupted.
Davidson said the institute plans to continue doing the surveys a few times a year to gain a better understanding of Canadian shopping in Western Washington.
“We normally wouldn’t release a study this early (after just two surveys), but this is topical,” said Davidson, referring to opportunity of measuring the impact of the bridge collapse on Canadian traffic.