Pawlenty plan for bridge includes LRT

Bush declares I-35W collapse emergency, releasing federal funds

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said yesterday that he instructed the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to construct a new 35W bridge capable of supporting light rail transit (LRT).

The collapse of the eight-lane bridge Aug. 1 during rush hour killed at least 13 people and sent about 100 vehicles into the Mississippi River. With the recovery of the last known victim Monday night, state officials were optimistic debris removal could accelerate.

“It will be a faster process,” Molnau said.

Pawlenty said only one vehicle, a truck used by the construction company conducting bridge deck resurfacing work prior to the collapse, remained in the river.

Also on Tuesday, a federal emergency declaration made by President Bush cleared the way for federal funding assistance following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

The city, county and state many now receive reimbursement from Federal Emergency Management for the rescue and recovery that followed the collapse of the bridge. FEMA funds could pay for 75 percent of those efforts, up to $5 million, the agency announced in a news release.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker said contractors now could remove most of the southern end of the bridge, as well as the concrete bridge deck that fell into the water. Removal will be conducted carefully to preserve any evidence of what led to the bridge collapse, Rosenker said.

Rosenker said federal investigators remain focused on the bridge’s superstructure, the supports above water.

He said pieces of the superstructure, including two gusset plates, would be taken to Washington, D.C., for closer analysis by NTSB investigators. Gusset plates are steel plates used to fasten bridge beams together.

Rosenker cautioned media at the Tuesday press conference not to “jump to any conclusions” that faulty plates caused the bridge disaster.

“The good thing is we found these two pieces right away,” he said. “We’ll be looking for other gusset plates, as well, and we’ll be looking for other elements that are part of this superstructure.”

Meanwhile, Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city would move quickly through the municipal consent process that will allow for rebuilding to begin. A public hearing on municipal consent was set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at the Thrivent Financial Auditorium, 625 Fourth Ave. S.

The inclusion of LRT had been a sticking point between the state officials and the City Council, which supported an LRT-capable bridge in anticipation of future transit needs. Lt. Gov. Carol Molneau, also head of MnDOT, was one of those who cautioned the addition would delay rebuilding of the bridge and increase the project’s cost.

Pawlenty said strengthening the new bridge to accommodate LRT could add $20–35 million to reconstruction costs. That additional cost will be “borne by the state,” he said.