I-35W Bridge Update - Week 12

Week 12 by Ivy Chang | September 28, 2010

On Wednesday, October 24, a citizens group of 80 people participated in an all-day meeting to make decisions about the new I-35W bridge as part of the public involvement process in the bid award.

A major consideration was the color of the bridge and two-thirds of the votes cast selected white. Participants also selected a gabion texture, which looks like mesh baskets filled with stones, for the retaining walls and abutments because they are more difficult for vandals to spray paint. An open railing design for the part of the bridge over the Mississippi River and Y-shaped piers with curves that continue the arch formed by the main spans also won votes.

Still to be decided are monuments at the river crossing and lighting. Artists will now draw the design of the undecided features for the public to view.

Construction work officially began

A schematic drawing showing the new bridge segments appeared in the Star Tribune that explained the construction, materials used and how all parts will be assembled.

Work on the bridge officially began on November 1 when Flatiron Constructors drilled 50 feet into the soil at the north end and then drilled an additional 50 feet to 70 feet into the sandstone below for a test shaft. Flatiron will make certain that the test shaft can withstand forces greater than the bridge's weight.

Cranes and other equipment gathered to begin work on underground supports at both ends. Main piers, box girders and roadways of the two spans will gradually appear from each end until they are joined together in the middle.

Most construction will be done in winter, according to MnDOT, and workers will limit pile driving to day time and minimize the noise from trucks and work equipment. The end result, on December 24, 2008, will be a bridge with 48,700 cubic yards of concrete and about 22 million pounds of steel that will lift drivers 115 feet above the Mississippi River.

Arguments continue

During the week, Minnesota Department of Transportation lawyers defended the agency's decision to hire a Colorado contractor to build the new I-35W bridge after two plaintiffs who filed suit against MnDOT asked a judge to halt the bridge's construction.

Plaintiffs' lawyer argued that MnDOT orchestrated the bid award to limit any challenges, kept key details of how technical scoring was accomplished a secret and then released the details when the Department of Administration denied the bid protest. Lawyers for MnDOT denied that it departed from normal procedures in awarding the contract.

The union representing MnDOT's bridge inspectors and MnDOT official argued about the lack of resources and staffing levels to keep bridges safe. A union official, now on leave to work for the largest state employee union, said MnDOT has 77 inspectors to examine 14,000 bridges. But MnDOT said it has more than 200 employees who work on inspections of 4,500 bridges, including those on the state highway system and some local bridges.

Survivors and families testify

Legislators took their first step to consider whether or not to set up a fund to help victims of the bridge collapse. A Minnesota House committee heard stories from survivors and spouses of the long and painful recoveries, surgeries, mounting medical bills, and lost wages as part of a hearing to create a fund.

Committee members acknowledged that discussions about the fund will include tough questions about whether the state should be included in offering compensation.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he believes the state "should assist survivors and the families of victims and supports the concept of a relief fund or other appropriate options to address their needs." Under a state law, the government's liability is capped at $1 million per incident no matter how many people are hurt.

Another hearing is scheduled for November 15 to discuss how a fund could be set up and administered.