Twin Cities’ replacement bridge could open in the fall, earlier than scheduled.
One year after the Interstate 35 W bridge fell in Minneapolis, a new bridge is well on the way to completion. Although nationwide post-collapse inspections resulted in closures of only a few other bridges, the Aug. 1, 2007, failure prompted greater bridge funding by Congress and some states. Much bridge work remains based on federal statistics showing 72,000 structurally deficient bridges nationwide, a number that has actually declined by 48% since 1990.
State and industry officials are awaiting the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the collapse, including its finding of the probable cause for the structure’s failure. One focus so far has been the span’s gusset plates. NTSB has said the report is likely to be released by the end of the year.
In Minnesota, the new I-35 W bridge, a 1,218-ft-long crossing with a 504-ft-long, precast-concrete segmental main span, is slated to be completed by Christmas Eve, but project officials say it could be ready for traffic as early as Sept. 15. Minnesota Dept. of Transportation project manager Jon Chiglo says despite scope changes requested by the city and the agency, the design-build team led by the Flatiron-Manson joint venture is within 1% of its $234-million contract.
Inspections of state-owned steel-truss bridges in Minnesota led to closing the 890-ft-long St. Cloud bridge. Bids for a $36-million replacement were to be opened on July 25. The 2,280-ft-long Highway 43 Winona Bridge was shut in June but reopened to limited traffic as Edward Kraemer & Sons Inc. repairs 15 gusset plates. Duluth’s 8,000-ft-long Blatnick Bridge is restricted to one lane in each direction as MnDOT plans to reinforce 16 gussets. In Indiana, a steel-truss bridge was restricted to eight tons, after inspectors detected corrosion.
As a result of the I-35W collapse, a new Columbia River bridge between Oregon and Washington “will probably be a segmentally constructed concrete bridge,” says Jugesh Kapur, Washington state bridge engineer. He says it “will definitely not be a steel-truss bridge,” like the current crossing, which was built in 1917.
In Washington, D.C., the House at ENR press time was to vote on a bridge bill that would set new federal inspection requirements and authorize more funds. A spending measure enacted last Dec. 26 provided $1 billion in added federal bridge aid. Oregon will use its $18-million share of that to upgrade seven bridges. Texas DOT will let several projects beginning in September with its $32 million. Maryland will use its $23 million on “a number of smaller projects...in the $1-million to $5-mil1ion category,” says Robert J. Healy, deputy director of the State Highway Administration office of bridge development.
But seven months after the bill was signed, not all bridge aid has been obligated, the Federal Highway Administration says. Washington DOT hasn’t received any of its $34.8-million share, officials say. Congress put conditions on the $1 billion, directing U.S. DOT to ensure states use it to “supplement and not supplant” already-planned spending.
Some states are raising their own funds. In February, Minnesota’s legislature overrode Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) veto of a $6.6-billion, 10-year transportation plan to be financed by a 5¢ gas-tax boost. It includes $5.4 billion for roads and bridges. Maryland’s legislature last fall approved $110 million over five years for bridge preservation. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell (D) signed a bill on July 7 to authorize $350 million in bonds for bridges. Andi Vigue, president of contractor Cianbro Corp., Pittsfield, Maine, says, “Some of the DOTs are succeeding in getting sufficient increases in funding, [but] others are struggling.”
Even in Pennsylvania, where new bonds will lift 2009 bridge spending to $1.7 billion, Rendell says, “We still have a long way to go.” He says his state still has some 6,000 structurally deficient bridges, more than any other state. The cost to fix them is more than $11 billion.