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Rescue crews were still looking for the injured from the collapse of bridge 9340 in Minneapolis, Minnesota when the finger pointing of who might be to blame began.  Former Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, a Democrat, was on WCCO-AM saying that budget cuts had curtailed the DOT's ability to do complete bridge inspections.  A few hours later Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who had vetoed the transportation bill two years in a row, was telling the media that the bridge had checked out just fine when inspected in 2005 and 2006.

A MN DOT document from March 2006 indicated that the bridge was scheduled for repairs in 2006, but it was removed from the schedule because it would be more efficient to do the work in 2007.  One of the questions that needs to be answered is if budget constraints were the cause of delaying the repairs.

If the lack of funding for bridge repairs and inspections had anything to do with the collapse of the 35W bridge and the loss of life it caused, it has the potential to be a political landmine for Governor Pawlenty and those legislators who voted to support his transportation bill veto.

The cause of the collapse and the answer to the question "could this have been avoided" make take some time to determine.   The National Transportation Safety Board has been called in. There is likely to be investigations on the state level as well.

Inside Minnesota Politics has obtained the 89-page report of bridge 9340's inspection in 2001.  In it, there are perhaps some hints of what may have brought the bridge down.

The report recommended inspecting certain parts of the bridge every two years as was the custom.  But it specified the parts that had "high stress ranges" should be inspected every six months.

What's not known tonight is if those inspections were carried out as planned, or if budget cuts prevented them.

The 2001 inspection also noted that "The bridge's deck truss has not experienced any fatigue cracking, but it has many poor fatigue details on the main truss and the floor truss system.  The research helped determine that the fatigue cracking of the deck truss is not likely, which means the bridge should not have any problems with fatigue cracking in the foreseeable future."

Video of Bridge Collapse Exists

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Mark Rosenker revealed this morning that a video of the I-35W bridge collapse is being examined by investigators.  Rosenker said the video would be taken back to Minneapolis and digitally enhanced.   The video was shot from a nearby dam on the Mississippi river.

Other highlights below:

  • Minnesota Governor Pawlenty responds to questions about a 2005 inspection that showed the bridge was "structurally deficient".
  • His pledge to immediately inspect other bridges of this type in Minnesota.
  • Emergency federal funding for cleanup, traffic control and rebuilding.
  • Former MN Transportation Director says we're starting to see the effects of budget shortfalls on infrastructure.
Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters has announced the federal government has made $5 million available immediately to deal with traffic problems and start rebuilding.

Senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota say they are working to get more federal funding freed up for the rebuilding.

"This is a reminder that we need funding to keep our bridges safe", said Klobuchar.

"A bridge in America just shouldn't fall down", said Klobuchar "[this] investigation will take time.  We need to get to the bottom of this"

"This investigation has already begun" said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker. "This will be a complex investigation."  Rosenker said the NTSB will want to recover pieces and reassemble them so they can understand what caused the bridge to collapse.

Reporters asked Peters and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty about the bridges "structurally deficient" rating of 50.   Peters said the rating was "no means an indication this bridge is not safe" and that if it was unsafe Governor Pawlenty would have shut it down.  Pawlenty said when the inspections that were done in 2005 and 2006 there was "no call by anyone" to close the bridge.  Pawlenty also said there was a partial inspection of the bridge done in 2007 and it was scheduled to be completed in September after the construction was finished.

Pawlenty said the state will "immediately check all bridges of this design".  He was not how many bridges that might be.

NTSB Chair Mark Rosenker also revealed that a video of the collapse exists and was shot from the nearby dam.  The video will be taken back to Washington, DC and digitally enhanced.  He said they are also asking for any one else with video of the collapse to contact the NTSB.

After the news conference former Minnesota Transportation Director Elwyn Tinklenberg said "We're starting to see the effects of shortfalls in our budgets" and noted there was a "tremendous demand" for highway and other infrastructure dollars.

Congressman Jim Oberstar will introduce legislation today to direct at least $250 million to the State of Minnesota to deal with the replacement of the I-35W bridge that collapsed yesterday.  More hereabout today's mark up hearing.  News conference is now scheduled for 1pm EDT/ Noon CDT

After today's mark up the Oberstar will attempt to bring the bill to the House Floor for passage today.   "I am hopeful we can get this to the Senate in time for them to pass it before the August recess begins," said Oberstar.

Oberstar says this tragedy underscores the critical need to continue aggressively investing in our nation's transportation infrastructure.  There are 585,000 federal highway aid bridges in the United States.  Up to 30 percent of them are structurally deficient to some degree.  However, 70% of the nation's traffic travels over just 547 bridges across the country every day.

Conrad deFiebre, who covered transportation for many years, has the figures on the safety status of Minnesota bridges.

The Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge that tragically collapsed into the Mississippi River Wednesday evening was one of 1,135 road spans in Minnesota rated as "structurally deficient" by the federal government.

That’s 8.7 percent of the state’s 13,008 bridges, 20 feet or longer, that are subject to annual inspections. Another 451 spans are considered "functionally obsolete." Included in the total are 65 bridges that are more than a century old.

Full story from Minnesota 2020 here

Originally posted to mmcintee on Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 10:20 PM PDT.

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