Higher bridge costs, less MNDOT money


A Contingent Appropriation Group failed to sign off on using $195 million in state reserves to temporarily pay for reconstruction of the Interstate 35W bridge. However, it doesn’t mean it won’t.

The bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people. Federal officials have pledged to pay for the replacement; however, the $195 million is the remaining amount of federal money to be allocated to the state.

However, the committee was told that total bridge replacement and related costs could approach $400 million. In addition to the bridge replacement, other costs related to the catastrophe include site demolition; traffic restoration and operations costs, such as upgrading Highway 280 or striping Interstate 94 to create an extra lane; environmental mitigations; and incentives to the company rebuilding the collapsed span.

The $195 million transfer was requested to ensure reconstruction of the bridge without delaying other projects. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who doubles as the transportation commissioner, said no decisions have been made as to what projects could be affected. The state will ask the federal government to fund the increased costs.

A 2007 law permits the transportation commissioner, with gubernatorial approval, “to transfer all or part of the unappropriated balance in the trunk highway fund to an appropriation (1) for trunk highway design, construction, or inspection in order to take advantage of an unanticipated receipt of income to the trunk highway fund or to take advantage of federal advanced construction funding, (2) for trunk highway maintenance in order to meet an emergency, or (3) to pay tort or environmental claims.”

Of more concern to some legislators, including House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Mpls), was the discovery of the department’s poor financial health, which could have been previously shared. For example, the Trunk Highway Fund balance, which contained $16.3 million at the end of fiscal year 2007, is currently projected to be nearly $75 million in the hole at the end of fiscal year 2008 and $6.9 million to the good one year later.

The group plans to meet later this week, likely Thursday.