The Minnesota Legislature will pay up to $500,000 to Gray Plant Mooty, a Minneapolis law firm, to assist lawmakers in its own investigation into the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the I-35W bridge collapse. The law firm will act as legal counsel to a bipartisan legislative committee which will issue a preliminary report on the bridge collapse in March.
Immediate opposition came from Republicans who called this action "a pointless, expensive and potentially damaging political exercise" while Democrats want to look into changes in MnDOT's practice in road and bridge construction. The Democratic co-chair of the bridge panel said he does not trust the NTSB investigation to be non-partisan.
This is the first time in 30 years that an outside legal counsel has been authorized to help with an investigation.
The U.S. House voted to approve a massive $516-billion spending bill that includes money for the reconstruction of I-35W bridge. On Monday, December 19, congressional leaders passed the bill that funds the entire federal government through September 2008 but does not include money for the military in Iraq. Senate Republicans, however, inserted $70 billion in war funds by the end of the week and cut some of the domestic spending.
In the $516 billion were major Minnesota projects: $195 million for the I-35W bridge, $55 million for the Northstar Corridor rail line, $50 million for security at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, $10 million for the planned Central Corridor light rail connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, $2.9 million for greater Minnesota transit bus system, $1.1 million for the new St. Cloud airport land acquisition, and $850,000 to improve Highway 14 through south central Minnesota.
Minnesota has already received $373 million to fund the I-35W bridge reconstruction.
Crews began pouring a 200-foot-long slab of concrete with more than 40 cement trucks providing the concrete. This slab is part of the road bed that will support 10 lanes of traffic by next winter. In the December cold, the area above West River Parkway was draped in black plastic sheets, and diesel powered heaters kept temperatures at 40 degrees to prevent concrete from freezing. Concrete pumpers directed the mixture into the trench.
Crews also poured concrete into shafts that form the footings which sit on top of the piles. The concrete requires about one week to cure. Then the bridge's south abutment will be built on top of the footings beginning in January. Through last week, much of the bridge construction has been below ground.
Two of eight arched structures, known as casting beds, have been completed on a stretch of I-35W north of Washington Avenue. These beds will form segments of the main span of the bridge.
A rendering of the finished I-35W bridge was installed on the Tenth Avenue bridge that describes the construction process and provides a self-guided tour for anyone interested in knowing the progress of the work.