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All Minnesota bridges to be checked

By Don Davis

Forum Communications

MINNEAPOLIS - Inspectors will check all 13,026 Minnesota bridges in the wake of a Minneapolis interstate bridge collapse.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered the inspections, although he said there is no evidence of any danger.

The state bridge engineer said the eight-lane bridge on Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River that collapsed shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday had been inspected annually, more often than most other bridges because it was Minnesota's busiest.

"We had thought we had done all we could," State Bridge Engineer Dan Dorgan said Thursday. "Obviously, something went terribly wrong."

Pawlenty ordered the Minnesota Department of Transportation to hire an independent firm to conduct the new inspections, which he said would be completed within days on the only other three bridges similar to the one that collapsed. Once those three are inspected, he said that others with some type of deficiencies on record will be thoroughly examined, followed by the rest of the bridges.

On Thursday evening, federal authorities followed Pawlenty's lead and ordered all bridges similar to the one on 35W to be immediately inspected.

State and federal officials converged on the collapse scene Thursday, promising help.

"A bridge in America should not fall down," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said.

The 35W bridge on the northeast edge of downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour Wednesday. Just four of the dead were identified by early Thursday evening. Turbulent water and a tangle of concrete and steel made it too dangerous for divers to send in divers to retrieve the dead, authorities said, although there were reports of another victim being recovered before nightfall.

The four dead who had been identified were from Minneapolis and its suburbs.

Authorities said 79 people were hurt and about 30 are missing, many probably in a Mississippi River grave.

Hennepin County Sheriff Department officers used sonar to locate vehicles in the river. Other vehicles remained on the bridge deck, about 450-feet of which lay atop the Mississippi.

After the three are checked, inspectors will turn their attention to 103 state and more than 1,000 local bridges that have received some demerits in their inspections. Once that wraps up, the rest of the 13,026 bridges will be checked.

Many of the bridges that inspectors said were deficient are small ones in rural areas. However, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said a deficiency does not mean a bridge is dangerous.

According to Stevens County Highway Engineer Brian Giese, there are 50 structures in the county that could be considered bridges, but most are box culverts and not span bridges. This does not include any structures on trunk highways as those are maintained by MnDOT.

Giese says the county conducts yearly bridge inspections and none of the bridges in Stevens County are considered deficient.

Sue Dieter of the Morris Sun Tribune contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.