Bridge collapse concerns raised


Refusing to call it a “widespread condemnation,” of the Department of Transportation, a report nonetheless questions some of the department’s happenings before the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge.

A quartet of people from the Minneapolis law firm of Gray Plant and Mooty told the Joint Committee to Investigate the Bridge Collapse that MnDOT policies were not followed in critical respects. The firm was hired by the Legislature to take an independent look at factors leading up to the collapse that killed 13 people, and recommend changes the department or elected officials should consider.

Rep. Bernie Lieder (DFL-Crookston), chairman of the House Transportation Finance Division, said it will be the National Transportation Safety Board that determines why the bridge collapsed. A report is expected by the end of this year; however, preliminary indications have focused on a bowed gusset plate as a major factor in the incident.

Among concerns expressed was that MnDOT didn’t document a bowed gusset plate on the bridge, which has been identified by other investigations as a major factor in the collapse.

Investigators also determined that dollar signs may have adversely influenced decision-making. “Unfortunately, funding considerations deferred work on the Bridge that would have improved its structural integrity, not just maintain its drivability,” the report states.

MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, who started his position April 28, reiterated that the states bridges are safe, that a top engineering program is a priority and that the department is working on a policy for bridge maintenance. Sorel indicated he would have a department response in three or four weeks.