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Minneapolis Bridge Not Repaired in December Because MNDOT Feared Project Would Weaken Aging Structure

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A plan to repair the structurally-deficient Minneapolis Bridge was put on hold earlier this year by the Minnesota of Transportation (MNDOT) because it was feared that the bridge was too weak to withstand such a project. Instead, MNDOT decided to conduct regular inspections of the doomed structure. The department planned to implement emergency repairs on the collapsed Minneapolis Bridge if inspections uncovered serious problems. Unfortunately, MNDOT’s inspections did not find whatever defects led to the Minneapolis Bridge collapse on August 1, which left at least12 people dead and 100 others injured.

Over the weekend, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published documents that shed light on MNDOT’s decision to subject the collapsed Minneapolis Bridge to frequent inspections, rather than repairs or replacement. According to the MNDOT documents, on December 6, 2006, the department was about to begin repairs on the I-35 W Bridge. The plan was to install steel plates on several areas of the bridge were there was evidence of structural fatigue. But that plan was shelved over concerns that bolting the steel plates to the structure could actually weaken the Minneapolis Bridge further.

In January, MNDOT decided to increase inspections on the Minneapolis Bridge. Inspectors would look for signs of fatigue cracking, and emergency repairs would be done as needed. MNDOT began inspection of 52 steel beams on the I-35 W Bridge in May, but those inspections were never finished. MNDOT stopped the inspections so that resurfacing work could begin on the doomed I-35 W Bridge in June. MNDOT had planned to reevaluate the inspection plan on August 20. At that meeting, the agency would have decided if the Minneapolis Bridge should undergo the installation of steel plates that had been put off last December.

No cause for the I-35 W Bridge collapse has been determined at this time. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has 19 investigators working on the case, but it could be a year or more before they issue findings. Investigators are said to be casting a suspicious eye on construction that had been taking place on the Minneapolis Bridge prior to the collapse. Reports also indicated that NTSB investigators might have found a design flaw in the steel gusset plates that were used to bind the bridge trusses together.

Meanwhile, recovery crews at the site of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse are searching for the last person known to be missing in the wake of the tragedy. On Sunday, divers found another body in the wreckage of the I-35 W Bridge, bringing the confirmed death toll to 12. The Hennepin County medical examiner said that the victim was Scott Sathers, 30. Sathers was employed at nearby Capella University and was on his way home when the I-35 W Bridge collapsed. Greg Jolstad, 55, is the only person remaining on the list of people missing following the collapse of the Minneapolis Bridge. Jolstad was part of the construction team doing work on the bridge when it fell into the Mississippi River.

The Minneapolis Bride collapsed into the Mississippi River at 6:05 p.m. on August 1. It was the height of rush hour, and hundreds of cars were backed up across the span of the bridge, one of Minneapolis’ busiest. Dozens of vehicles and hundreds of people fell sixty feet into the gorge below.

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