I-35W Bridge Collapse - Week 41

Week 41 by Ivy Chang | September 28, 2010

The law firm hired by the Minnesota Legislature to provide an independent study of the I-35W bridge collapse reported that the Minnesota Department of Transportation failed to follow its own policies and didn’t take the advice of experts on the poor condition of the I-35W bridge before its collapse.

Law firm issues list of actions that led to bridge failure

On May 21, Gray Plant Mooty presented its report to a joint legislative committee that cited some obvious failures:

  1. Financial considerations influenced decisions made about the bridge.
  2. Decision makers didn’t always get complete and thorough information about the bridge’s condition.
  3. Agency officials knew they would be in the middle of political furor if they closed the bridge.
  4. MnDOT didn’t follow its policies on reporting the bridge’s deteriorating condition.
  5. MnDOT failed to act to improve the "poor" rating of the bridge’s superstructure.
  6. MnDOT didn’t consider the construction work’s impact on the bridge.
  7. MnDOT didn’t document the bowed gusset plate which was identified by other investigations as a major factor in the collapse.

Legal panel makes recommendations to the state

The four-lawyer panel issued a list of recommendations to reform MnDOT procedures, including having a registered professional engineer among the department’s top decision makers,

repairing and replacing fracture-critical bridges should receive the highest funding priority, the state should inspect all fracture-critical bridges annually, and local governments should prepare replacement or repair plans for these bridges.

Regarding bridge funding, the panel recommended that the Legislature create an emergency funding source for major bridge replacement or repair, and MnDOT should hire a consulting firm to audit compliance with its own quality control.

Pitt’s firing was justified, according to arbitrator

An arbitrator ruled that the state’s firing of Sonia Pitt last November was justified. In her decision, Christine Ver Ploeg wrote that Sonia Pitt "abused the latitude accorded to her" when Pitt stayed in the East coast for nearly two weeks after the I-35W bridge collapsed on August 1.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation fired Pitt for unprofessional conduct, including unauthorized expenses and travel. Pitt appealed arguing that MnDOT misconstrued its own policies, her supervisors approved her travel, and she was able to fulfill her duties immediately after the tragedy from Massachusetts and Washington, D. C.

Ver Ploeg also wrote, "Just because Ms. Pitt was able to do portions of her job remotely does not mean that it made no difference where she was," and rejected the idea that physical location was not important.

Crews finished concrete pouring for bridge decks

On the south side of the Mississippi River, (the side closest to downtown Minneapolis) crews finished pouring concrete for the bridge decks and are ready to install the first pair of main span segments over the river in the next few days.

With most of the main span segments poured in the casting yard, crews are preparing to demolish the old road bed of I-35W south of the river. Workers will break up the old roadway to prepare the surface for reconstruction. This work will take place 24 hours a day for up to four weeks.

Construction of the pre-cast concrete segments for the main span continues. As of May 19, 101 segments have been built with nine more planned for the week. Completed segments are hauled from beds 1 through 4 in the casting yard to West River Parkway on the Mississippi River for finishing work.

On the north side, crews are pouring concrete for the approach spans, building falsework for the Second Street bridge, grading I-35W beyond the north approach, and constructing walls for the on and off ramps of University Avenue.

Utility companies and subcontractors are relocating utilities and widening the freeway south of the river and the casting beds. Many streets around the bridge are closed, permanently or temporarily, until work is completed.