Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Debris Removal to BeginAug 7, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
The difficult task of moving debris from the Minneapolis Bridge collapse is set to start soon. Removal of the wreckage will not only further the investigation into the cause of the I-35 W Bridge collapse, but it will help recovery workers locate bodies that might be trapped in cars under the wreckage. No additional victims of the collapse have been pulled from the Mississippi River since last week, however eight people who were believed to be on the Minneapolis Bridge when it collapsed are still missing.
At a news conference yesterday, Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek said that conditions in the Mississippi were dangerous. The current is strong, and divers are only able to see ahead for about six inches. Crews are working 16-hour shifts, and the divers are literally feeling their way around the wreckage of the I-35 W Bridge. FBI and Navy dive teams and salvage experts have joined the recovery effort. The crews are using a small, unmanned submarine with a robotic arm to search the river.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is scheduled to run a computer analysis to try to determine how the I-35W Bridge fell into the river. NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said that investigators will be looking at the entire area of the Minneapolis Bridge that was under construction. Construction crews said that they had felt the bridge “wobble” in the days prior to the collapse. The NTSB will use computer analysis to look at the loads the bridge carried during the construction.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) began to plan for the rebuilding of the I35-W Bridge. MNDOT’s goal is to have a new bridge completed by the end of 2008. That is an ambitious goal, as the construction of a structure like the Minneapolis Bridge generally takes about three years. MNDOT plans to start awarding construction contracts in September, but even that might be difficult. Before they can start submitting bids, contractors will need to know what the bridge should look like and how much traffic it will carry. And there is sure to be debate over whether or not to repeat the design of the collapsed I-35 W Bridge. Minnesota’s harsh winters could also slow down construction.
MNDOT said that it plans to offer contractors financial incentives to have the bridge completed by the goal date. They could base such a program on one used by Florida to replace the Escambia Bay Bridge in Pensacola that was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan. In any case, contractors already have a deadline of Wednesday morning to prove to MNDOT that they are qualified to bid on the project.
The 2008 deadline could cause other highway projects in the state to be delayed, MNDOT warned, as meeting the deadline will tie up construction resources. MNDOT also said that it expects the I-35 W Bridge replacement project to cost between $300 and $350 million. However, the final cost will not be known until the design of the new Minneapolis Bridge is chosen.