Looking for answers


Eight legislative subpoenas were handed out and ready for House Commerce and Labor Committee execution largely as a sign of frustration over problems surrounding the Wakota Bridge project.

The subpoenas are directed at the Department of Transportation, its commissioner, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, and the construction company and consultants involved with the bridge that stands half-complete in the southeast suburbs. They come after at least three months of department delays in handing over documents requested by the committee.

“I didn’t want it to come to this, but they have failed or refused to disclose information that we have requested,” said Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights), the committee chairman.

The bridge problems were before the committee largely because of contract issues, some labor-related problems and the economic effect the delay is having on business, said Atkins, who represents the bridge’s neighboring district.

Construction began in 2002, with completion planned for 2007. But work was halted temporarily in September 2004 when stress cracks were found. Once corrected, the westbound side of the structure was completed.

Molnau, however, canceled the eastbound part of the construction contract because the state could not reach an agreement with the contractor. Bids for the eastbound track are expected to be let in January, with project completion slated for 2011.

In May, the committee began asking for documentation from the department by July 31, but members feel they have been stonewalled and there is bipartisan frustration with MnDOT.

“This isn’t a tap on the shoulder, but a punch in the chest, to forcefully move things forward,” said Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).

MnDOT officials said the department was working to fulfill the request, but then the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed and the department has since been inundated with other data practice requests. Four or five people have been working full-time to meet all the requests.

Although Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) withdrew his motion to have the committee issue the subpoenas, Atkins warned that the threat is real. The department and the construction companies now have until Nov. 5 to comply with the committee’s information request.