The Agency Considered Making Repairs. Structural problems on the collapsed Minneapolis bridge so concerned the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) last year that the agency considered making repairs. Instead, MNDOT opted for regular inspection of the doomed Interstate 35W structure. That decision may have cost at least six people their lives, while the fate of eight others missing in the Minneapolis bridge collapse is still unknown.
Last winter, MNDOT considered a plan to bolt steel plates to the supports of the 40-year-old I-35W bridge to prevent fatigued areas from cracking. The department even consulted with contractors about such a project. According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a fierce debate waged for months at MNDOT over repairing the bridge or subjecting it to inspections. In the end, the agency opted for inspections. Though there was enough money in the state’s transportation budget, MNDOT chose to go the inspection route because the repair would require that thousands of small bolt-holes be drilled into the bridge. Some of the department’s engineers feared that doing so would weaken the I-35W bridge even further.
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.
The State to Face Serious Questions.
Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that he expects the state to face serious questions about its bridge maintenance programs. Yesterday, he ordered inspections of all similar bridges in Minnesota. MNDOT said yesterday that about 8-percent of the states bridges, including the I-35W bridge, had been listed by the federal government as “structurally deficient”. Nationwide, the number is around 13-percent. MNDOT maintains that such a designation does not mean a bridge is unsafe.
Meanwhile, at the site of the disaster, rescue crews continued the grim task of searching for the dead. Casualty figures were revised down from those released yesterday morning. According to the Hennepin County Sherriff’s Department, five bodies have been pulled from the Mississippi River, and a sixth woman died from her injuries last night. The number of missing has dropped from nearly 30 to 8. Many of those who had initially been reported as missing were accounted for by last night. The Mississippi River’s strong current and low visibility were making recovery efforts difficult. Rescue workers said that it could take several days before they are able to locate all of the missing.
The I-35W Bridge collapsed Wednesday evening at the height of the Minneapolis rush hour. The entire bridge collapsed in less than 4 seconds, and sent dozens of vehicles into the Mississippi. In addition to the dead and missing, 79 people were injured in the bridge collapse, some of them critically. Prior to the collapse, the I-35W bridge had been one of Minneapolis’ most heavily-traveled bridges, carrying more than 140,000 vehicles every day.
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