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Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Puts MNDOT under Microscope, as State Lawmakers Call for Probe of Agency

Oct 4, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP Members of the Minnesota State Legislature want an independent investigation into the August 1 Minneapolis Bridge collapse.  Some state  lawmakers are pushing for the appointment of a special investigator who would focus specifically on the  Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MNDOT) decision making process prior to the collapse of  the I-35 W Bridge.

The I-35 W Bridge collapsed on August 1, at 6:05 p.m.  It was the height of Minneapolis’ evening rush hour, and cars were lined up bumper-to- bumper across the span.  At least 88 vehicles and hundreds of people fell 60 feet into the Mississippi River below. Thirteen people died and at least 100 others were injured.   It would be nearly three weeks before the final victim of the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse was pulled from the river.

Members of the Minnesota legislature say they want the state to hire an outside investigator and staff to probe MNDOT’s actions leading up to the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse.  According to MNDOT records, the agency was so concerned about structural deficiencies on the I-35 W Bridge that  officials there actually considered replacing it.   And last winter, MNDOT even considered a plan to bolt steel plates to the supports of the 40-year-old I-35W bridge to prevent fatigued areas from cracking.  But some in the agency were concerned that such repairs would only serve to weaken the 40 year old bridge even more.  

Instead, MNDOT decided to submit the Minneapolis Bridge to more frequent inspections, rather than replacing or repairing the structure.  The I-35W Bridge was last inspected in June 2006. That report noted fatigue cracks in the sections leading to the river, one of which was 4 feet long. That crack was eventually reinforced with a steel plate.  An inspection did begin earlier this year, but was put on hold when construction began to repair the I-35W Bridge’s surface.

Now, Minnesota lawmakers want to know why MNDOT did not take more aggressive action in dealing with the aging I-35 W Bridge.   Several legislators supporting the funding of a new probe have said that if hired,  an investigator would function similar to an independent council, and that  the person would have funds available to hire a staff.

If approved, the independent investigator’s probe would be just one of multiple investigations looking into the Minneapolis Bridge collapse.  The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the disaster, but will not have a report for at least a year.   The state has already hired an independent consultant to probe the bridge collapse,  but it will look at all contributing factors, not just MNDOT's role in the disaster.

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