Minnesota will spend nearly $2 million over the next two years on an independent investigation to examine parts of the I-35W bridge to characterize initial defects, determine the source of the bridge instability through calculations and perform other duties, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The contract with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates of Chicago, technical experts in analyzing structural failures and natural disasters, took effect on August 1 as MnDOT seeks a second opinion on the bridge collapse.
MnDOT said it was responding to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's wish to obtain a state investigation parallel to the NTSB investigation. The state wants to make sure "absolutely nothing is missed," according to a spokesperson for the governor. A WJE project manager was on the bridge hours after the collapse to assist with removing and storing bridge parts and demolishing the structural components.
In Washington, the Senate approved spending $1 billion to speed repair of substandard bridges across the country as well as $195 million to replace the collapsed bridge. This is one of the major domestic spending bills Congress considered since returning from summer recess but the funding is not enough to compensate for the $65 billion needed to repair the backlog of bridges in the country.
The bridge initiative is part of the $104.6-billion measure to fund transportation and housing programs for the next fiscal year and is $4 billion over President George W. Bush's spending limit. Bush cannot veto individual items, and if he rejects this bill, the action would cancel funding for reconstruction of the I-35W bridge.
Around the Twin Cities, traffic has been lighter than expected as state and city authorities acted quickly to widen roads and added more buses and bus stops. Drivers found alternate routes, adapted to time and dropped discretionary trips.
Neighborhoods near the I-35W bridge are resisting traffic changes that use local streets to get around the detours. Neighbors and businesses in Northeast Minneapolis are against state proposals for temporary freeway ramps and enforcing no parking around four blocks of businesses to quickly move traffic.
Some streets have substantial increases in traffic while Minneapolis proposed four through lanes on a major street and removing 36 parking spaces to accommodate left turn lanes. The city is waiting for the federal government to finance a traffic signal on University Avenue Northeast to help people who ride bicycles or walk to work across the Stone Arch Bridge.
A study released on September 18 said U.S. drivers waste about one work week, 38 hours, each year sitting in traffic on the way to and from their jobs, according to the Texas Traffic Institute which conducted the study.
It estimated that drivers wasted 2.9 billion gallons of fuel sitting in traffic and cited Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, and Dallas as the top five cities with the worst traffic delays with an average of 72 hours a year.
Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., called a news conference with congressional and transportation leaders to discuss this report and defended his 5-cent increase in the gas tax. However, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, said because new technologies allow cars to travel farther on less gas and because motorists are using alternative fuels, lawmakers should be looking at broader plan to raise money for roads and bridges.
On September 19, the four teams who submitted design proposals will learn which team won the quarter-billion-dollar project. The design-build teams can earn up to $27 million in incentives for early completion but losers can also be paid $500,000 if they give permission to MnDOT to use any ideas that they submitted. This is the largest stipend ever offered on a MnDOT project and is a common feature of design-build transportation projects.