Minneapolis Bridge Inspectors Warned MNDOT of Serious Problems for 10 YearsAug 8, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
The Minneapolis Bridge that collapsed last Wednesday had concerned bridge inspectors for the past 10 years. Since 1996, MNDOT’s own inspectors had warned that the aging I-35W bridge was in need of significant repair. The I-35W Minneapolis Bridge collapsed Wednesday July 1, killing five and leaving at least eight people unaccounted for.
In the days since the Minneapolis Bridge collapse, attention has focused on evaluations of the bridge done since 2006 that found it to be “structurally deficient”. But an investigation by the Minneapolis Star Tribune has found that the Minneapolis Bridge was in trouble long before those reports were written. In 1996, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) inspectors wrote that a pier supporting steel spans had tilted. In 1998, they wrote that “numerous fatigue cracks were found” on the approaches to the Minneapolis bridge. These cracks were called “severe” and “extensive”. The reports also noted missing or damaged bolts on the bridge. Though the reports are vague as to the significance of these problems, by 2000 inspectors were calling for the eventual replacement of the Minneapolis Bridge. If replacement needed to be delayed, they recommended that the bridge at the very least be re-decked. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, those recommendations were repeated in every subsequent inspection report.
In a written statement, MNDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said that the fatigue cracks found in the 1990s had been addressed by repairs. He also said that replacement of the I-35 W Minneapolis Bridge was not considered because inspectors had not found fatigue cracks in the main truss spans. At a news conference on Tuesday, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said that the earliest date recommended for replacement of the Minneapolis Bridge had been 2020. He maintained that if anyone had recommended that the I-35W Bridge should be closed or that it was in danger of imminent failure, appropriate steps would have been taken.
Five people are confirmed dead in the Minneapolis Bridge collapse that occurred during last Wednesday’s evening rush hour. Five people remain hospitalized, with four in serious condition and one listed as critical. Eight people are still missing. About 100 others were hurt in the disaster. Last night, Minneapolis observed a moment of silence for the victims of the bridge collapse. Many gathered along the banks of the Mississippi River to toss flowers into its murky water as a memorial to victims.
Cranes have been brought to the site of the I-35 Bridge collapse to remove large piece of wreckage, and Navy dive teams have joined the search for victims. It is hoped that these additions will speed up the recovery. Navy divers are among the best in the world, and have access to technology that other dive crews lack. For instance, Navy divers are tethered to above ground oxygen tanks, allowing them to stay under water much longer. Most dive crews use SCUBA tanks. Navy divers also have experience with salvage operations, and know how to maneuver in dangerous waters like those of the Mississippi River. Recovery officials believe that victims are trapped beneath the debris of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse.